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Thursday, December 30

Intellectuals' Rockin' Eve The Modern Language Association has been meeting in Philadelphia this week. "Founded in 1883, the association was little noticed until the 1980s, when teachers of trendy new disciplines - African American studies, women's studies, queer theory - challenged traditional scholarship and brought the 'culture war' into the ivory tower. Ever since, the group has been criticized for pushing the envelope too far, for being too leftist, too socialist, too orthodox, for generating reams of scholarly papers with little practical application. There's a reason it tilts progressive: Humanities professors tend to be liberal and to push at boundaries. Conservatives and libertarians are more likely to go into business administration, economics and the law." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/30/04

Wednesday, December 29

Steinbeck's Hometown Shuts Libraries John Steinbeck's hometown of Salinas, California has decided to close down its libraries. "Earlier this month, council voted to shut down its three libraries by spring 2005, after residents rejected in November a number of tax increases aimed at funding city services." CBC (AP) 12/29/04

The Definitive Holmes A California lawyer has published a major new edition of the 56 Sherlock Holmes stories, heavily annotated with his exhaustive footnotes. "The collection, published last month by W. W. Norton is being hailed as the definitive exegesis of Holmes and his times. As a single reference work 'The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes' seems unlikely to be superseded for some time." The New York Times 12/30/04

Rome's Da Vinci Code Tour A new tour of Rome takes in the sites mentioned in the Da Vinci Code. "We have noticed in the past few months that lots of tourists, mainly American and British, have started coming to Rome just to see the sites in Angels and Demons. The four-hour tour, which costs €35 a head for groups and €75 for individuals, whisks tourists in a minibus around many of the sites. Participants need not have read the book." The Guardian (UK) 12/27/04

Monday, December 27

What (S)he Said... Given how fiercely authors fight to make and then maintain their literary reputations, it's amazing the odd things some of them say in interviews. Herewith, a compendium from the past year... The Times (UK) 12/26/04

Freaking Out Over Language For 15 years now, the Modern Language Association has seen its annual year-end conference dominated by "skirmishes between old-school traditionalists and the increasing powerful new breed of postmodernists, multiculturalists, feminists and queer-theory advocates." But "the circus is looking pretty threadbare, and the ones trying to do the freak show aspect of it are looking silly now." The New York Times 12/27/04

Lit Love - The Age Of Literary Magazines There are more than 1000 literary magazines currently publishing. "That is more than at any time in history. Most of the magazines are geared toward specific audiences, with average readerships of 2,000 and annual budgets under$10,000." The New York Times 12/27/04

Poetic Justice - What's A Poet Laureate To Do? California is looking for a new poet laureate, joining 35 states that have designated poets. But what, if anything, does the job entail? "These jobs come with almost no job description and little if any pay, so we start from scratch and decide what we want to do and how to do it." Christian Science Monitor 12/27/04

The Email Mystery A new book is published over the internet in the form of a series of emails. "Those who order the book receive 98 e-mail messages during a three-week period from a sender identified as ``e-mail mystery.'' Readers are then treated to the voyeuristic experience of reading Sam's correspondence. As the plot thicken and Sam's life is threatened, e-mails arrive in a sudden flurry. Then, just when readers worry about Sam's safety, they have to wait for an update." Boston Herald 12/27/04

The Digital Book (And What It Won't Remember) The drive to digitize every book is a good thing, right? It will make information more easily available to more people. And yet, digital records fail to include some of the traditional book's essential information. "The book as we know it carries within itself something more concrete: its own archeology. Dependent on ever-changing technology, e-books are relatively ephemeral; and although this need not be so, they tend to obscure their own origins and inner workings. Seeking to tame the ghosts of the past, the digital future may end up erasing its own history." Boston Globe 12/26/04

Thursday, December 23

The Books Most-Checked Out At Libraries Mysteries top the list. "We've done book-buying surveys over the years, and it always comes out that mysteries are the first and romance is a close second. I do think this (list) just confirms that libraries are huge lenders of mysteries. Almost every one of the popular fiction (titles) is a mystery." USAToday 12/23/04

Here's Ten Grand. Go Learn Farsi. It's been well documented that the English-language market for books in translation has nearly dried up in recent years, with the increasing global dominance of American culture and declining American interest in literature in general. But now, the Association of American Publishers is attempting to jumpstart the translation market by offering $10,000 to any publlisher willing to release one of several translated Iranian novels. The money comes from a grant by philanthropist and Democratic power broker George Soros. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (AP) 12/23/04

Wednesday, December 22

Slate Gets Adopted By WaPo News that the Washintgton Post is buying Slate Magazine was greeted "less as a business transaction than as a loving pet adoption." "Microsoft has been a terrific home for us editorially, but we’re very small, and they’re very big." Slate 12/22/04

Harry's Publisher's Stock Zooms Too "Immediately after it was announced that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince would go on sale in the USA and Britain on July 16, sooner than expected, stocks of its book publishers and some booksellers shot skywards." Yahoo! (AP) 12/22/04

Oprahmazon.com It's official: nobody sells more books than Oprah. "A new study confirms what many already knew: Oprah Winfrey's book endorsements are good as gold to publishers... Of [the 45 books Winfrey recommended to her 'book club'], only 11 had been on the bestseller list before her recommendation, and none of them had gone beyond No. 25. Of the first 11 books that Winfrey picked, all went to at least No. 4 within a week." The Globe & Mail (AP) 12/22/04

Just Can't Wait For Harry It's been less than 24 hours since author JK Rowling announced that the next installment of her wildly popular Harry Potter series would be published in July 2005, and already, the unreleased tome has rocketed to number one on the order chart of online retailer Amazon.com. The fifth volume in the series was Amazon's most heavily pre-ordered book ever, and the new entry seems sure to surpass it. BBC 12/22/04

Tuesday, December 21

Judges Walk Out On Aussie Lit Prize Three judges of Australia's major book award have quit over changes in the powers of the jury. The administrators of the Mile Franklin Literary Award "adopted a charter that appoints the NSW State Librarian, Dagmar Schmidmaier, as permanent head of the jury, reduces the term of the other judges from six to three years, allows Trust to dismiss the judges without explanation, and prevents them from speaking to the media." Sydney Morning Herald 12/22/04

Iraq's National Library Struggles To Rebuild "The daylight burning of the library, which the invading US military did not protect, was one of the first costly failures in the post-war chaos of occupation last year. Now it is slowly being restored. But in a country where recent history remains bitterly disputed, resurrecting the library and national archive has turned into a remarkably sensitive and political operation." The Guardian (UK) 12/21/04

Books, Not Bytes, Rule With Google digitizing some of the world's most important libraries, "are the days of the library as a social organism over? Almost certainly not, for reasons practical, psychological and, ultimately, spiritual. Locating a book online is one thing, reading it is quite another, for there is no aesthetic substitute for the physical object; the computer revolution rolls on inexorably, but the world is reading more paper books than ever. Indeed, so far from destroying libraries, the internet has protected the written word as never before, and rendered knowledge genuinely democratic." The Times (UK) 12/18/04

WaPo Buys Slate The Washington Post is buying one of the internet's first digital magazines. "In announcing a deal to acquire Slate from Microsoft Corp. for an undisclosed sum, said to be in the millions of dollars, Post executives said they would keep Jacob Weisberg as editor and most of the 30-person staff." Washington Post 12/21/04

Publisher And Bookseller Get Into Spat Barnes & Noble's CEO has reacted angrily to a suggestion by publisher Random House that it might begin selling its books directly to readers online. "The announcement of the new plans comes as the book business is suffering through a second consecutive year of almost-flat sales. The average age of book consumers continues to climb, and except for children's and religious books, few areas of the business seem to be picking up new readers." The New York Times 12/21/04

New Harry Potter Due July 16 JK Rowling has completed the next installment of the adventures of Harry Potter. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will hit stores July 16 and be published simultaneously in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. BBC 12/21/04

Well-Regarded Wellesley Review To Shut "After 21 years and more than 200 issues, the highly regarded Women's Review of Books, published at Wellesley College, will suspend publication after the December issue. Editor in chief Amy Hoffman, who took over the review in 2003, cited falling subscriptions and advertising, as well as increasing costs, for the demise of the literary monthly." Boston Globe 12/21/04

Monday, December 20

In The Tradition Of Saddam, We Give You Subcomandante Marcos, Novelist Mexican insurgent Subcomandante Marcos is collaborating on a novel - which is being serialized in a leading newspaper. Writing a whodunit may sound odd thing to do when you are running an insurgency, but Marcos has never fitted the traditional Latin American guerrilla mould." The Guardian (UK) 12/21/04

How's Your Christmas Lit Cred? Eew... ArtsJournal's editor scored only 9 of 15 in this year's Guardian books quiz... We're sure you can do better... The Guardian (UK) 12/19/04

Sunday, December 19

Merle Haggard For Poet Laureate Deciding on a new poet laureate for California is an exercise fraught with complications. "On one side are lawmakers and constituents who want to honor a local poet - a man who writes rhymes for greeting cards, say, or a woman with a couple of self-published volumes to her credit. On the other side are writers and other intellectuals, urging the governor to name a serious poet, someone whose work is critically acclaimed but whose name is not widely known among ordinary people." So who to picK/ Why not Merle Haggard... Sacramento Bee 12/19/04

Thursday, December 16

A Dictionary You Can Add To The new Collins Online gives readers an opportunity to suggest words for inclusion, as well as debate whether they should be included. "This is a completely new concept which will provide direct contact between the people who compile dictionaries and the end users. It allows us to open up the process of suggesting and selecting words." The Guardian (UK) 12/17/04

The Depressing Business Of Selling Books "Anyone who really cares about books is bound to find the way in which they are sold and marketed deeply depressing. To walk into the average high street bookstore at this time of year is to beinstantly assailed by a riot of three-for-two promotions, Christmas catalogues packed out with what Victorian scholars used to call biblia abiblia ("books that are not books"), Robbie Williams, the two motor-cycling actors, and cookery gurus. A glance at this week's Bookseller chart, meanwhile, discloses that of the country's 50 bestselling titles, exactly two might possess some kind of literary merit." The Guardian (UK) 12/17/04

Book-Buying - Am I Blue? (Or Red?) Do you care what the political persuasion of the bookstore you buy from is? "Does it make the decision easier for you to know that 98% of B&N's corporate political donations went to the Democrats, while 61% of Amazon's went to the Republicans? Or maybe you'll be encouraged to get offline entirely and shop at an old–fashioned brick and mortar store upon hearing the news that Borders gave 100% or its donations to Democrats?" MobyLives 12/16/04

Random House Considers Selling Online Publishing giant Random House says it is considering selling its wares directly to the public online. This would put the publisher in competition with e-tailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. "Among factors driving such talk are sluggish sales in the industry overall and a role reversal at Barnes & Noble, which publishes more and more books under its own name. B&N has released literary classics, histories and novelty books, vying with traditional publishers for reader dollars." New York Daily News 12/16/04

US Reverses Embargo On Publishing Cubans, Iranians The US has changed a policy that had banned American publishers from working with dissident authors in certain counries. "The rule change by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control comes after Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi sued the United States because its economic embargo on Iran blocked U.S. publication of her memoirs. The new rule allows U.S. publishers to engage in 'most ordinary publishing activities' with people in Cuba, Iran and Sudan, while maintaining restrictions on interactions with government officials and agents of those countries." Philadelphia Inquirer (Reuters) 12/16/04

Wednesday, December 15

The OutSourced Editor "Alas, the era when the old-school Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins turned F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sheaf of scribbles into This Side of Paradise appears to be well and truly over, with many publishing houses appearing to be not much more than glorified Kinko’s that acquire, bind, print and ship out." Editors who acquire books at big publishing houses rarely actually edit anymore; the job is outsourced to freelancers... New York Observer 12/15/04

Google, Schmoogle! Canada's Got It Covered. Google's plan to digitize large chunks of the knowledge contained in major U.S. libraries is sure to get lots of attention, but the fact is that major digitization efforts have been underway in Canada for some time. "Many major libraries and national archives are digitizing parts of their collections, not as a way of replacing physical libraries, but as an extension of their reach... Library and Archives Canada, which combines the former National Library of Canada and National Archives of Canada, has been especially active, scanning millions of pages of documents a year. It has now put all of the publications, including pamphlets and books, printed in Canada in the 18th and 19th century on-line for the public to access." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/15/04

Tuesday, December 14

From Blog To Book Where are our new writers coming from? Some publishers think it's blogs. "Sometimes publishers are interested in publishing elements of the blogs in book form; mostly they simply enjoy the blogger's writing and want to publish a novel or nonfiction book by the blogger, usually on a topic unrelated to the blog." The New York Times 12/15/04

No More Love Notes At Juliet's House (Use Email) Visitors to Juliet's house in Verona are going to have to stop leaving notes on her door. "Written on post-it slips, the love notes are often attached to the medieval walls with chewing gum, creating damage and producing a rather disgusting view, according to Verona's tourist council. After the cleaning early next year, Juliet will be given her own telephone number and email address. Lovers from all over the world will have to express their innermost feelings via text messages, which will be displayed on a giant screen inside the house." Discovery 12/14/04

Lord Of The (Copyright) Jungle "Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated, the estate of Tarzan's creator, has demanded that Victoria University Press stop selling copies of the humorous novel Tarzan Presley. Written by New Zealander Nigel Cox, it tells the story of Presley 'raised by gorillas in the wild jungles of New Zealand, scarred in battles with vicious giant wetas, seduced by a beautiful young scientist' who gets a record deal with Elvis Presley's producer and has 30 No 1 hits." Stuff (NZ) 12/02/04

Deal To Digitize The Repositories Of Human Knowledge Google and some of the world's biggest libraries announce a deal to digitize their collections. "The goal is to expand the Web beyond its current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and create a digital card catalog and searchable library for the world's books, scholarly papers and special collections. Within two decades, most of the world's knowledge will be digitized and available, one hopes for free reading on the Internet, just as there is free reading in libraries today." The New York Times 12/14/04

California Seeks A Poet California is looking for a new state poet laureate. The post has been empty for two years after nominated poet Quincy Troupe withdrew from consideration for the job after a resume problem. "In addition to transforming the ordinary, applicants will be asked to traverse the Golden State for little or no compensation. A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman suggested that candidates who choose to forgo pay could earn a leg up in the selection process. 'As you know, this is a very tight fiscal year. Quite possibly, a poet laureate may step up to the plate and volunteer their time. Wouldn't that be wonderful'?"
Los Angeles Times 12/14/04

Monday, December 13

Wolfe Wins Bad Sex Award Tom Wolfe's new book wins a prize... but not exactly a good one. The Literary Review gave Wolfe its annual Bad Sex award Monday for his best-selling novel I Am Charlotte Simmons. Judges said the book's sex scenes were 'ghastly ... inept ..(and) unrealistic.' The nearly 700-page novel is set at fictional Dupont University in Pennsylvania, chronicling the bright, naive Charlotte Simmons' entry into a hedonistic world filled with heavy drinking and casual sex." Yahoo! (AP) 12/13/04

How Common Is Academic Plagiarism? (Quite!) We only seem to hear about plagiarism when famous writers get caught. But in academia, plagiarism flourishes. According to one survey, 40 percent of academics believe they've been plagiarized. But academia "discourages victims from seeking justice, and when they do, tends to ignore their complaints -- a kind of scholarly "don't ask, don't tell" policy. "It's like cockroaches. For every one you see on the kitchen floor, there are a hundred behind the stove." Chronicle of Higher Education 12/17/04

Sunday, December 12

Computer Model Predicts Book Sales A new computer model is proving accurate in predicting how books will sell. "Information about a book travels through the network of potential buyers in two possible fashions: exogenous and endogenous. Exogenous shocks come from sources outside the system they affect, like billboards or newspaper articles; endogenous shocks are made up of very small exogenous shocks that happen in a coordinated fashion, like word-of-mouth recommendations. The model predicts how sales will decline after they peak according to how the peak occurred." MIT Technology Review 12/12/04

US Bans Some Foreign Writers American publishers are under US government sanctions not to publish works by foreign writers in certain countries. "In an apparent reversal of decades of U.S. practice, recent federal Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations bar American companies from publishing works by dissident writers in countries under sanction unless they first obtain U.S. government approval. The restriction, condemned by critics as a violation of the First Amendment, means that books and other works banned by some totalitarian regimes cannot be published freely in the United States." Philadelphia Inquirer (AP) 12/12/04

Friday, December 10

PEN v. PEN Disputes are ripping apart the British writers' association PEN. "In one camp are the ascetics, who believe that PEN's only purpose is its traditional one of working selflessly and frugally for persecuted writers around the world. In the other are the modernisers - decadents, say their critics - who envisage a rather more glittering future involving celebrities and media events. In both - as you might expect - are some of the most sharp-tongued people in Britain. The reluctance by those involved for the fighting to be made public is, for others, a further reason to be bitter." The Independent (UK) 12/10/04

Tuesday, December 7

Australia's Favorite Book It's Lord of the Rings, as named by voters in a national poll. "The book's enduring popularity was confirmed last night when The Lord of the Rings was named Australia's "favourite read" on ABC TV, its third victory in TV polls. It won in Britain and Germany. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was voted Australia's second favourite, with the Bible third. The best-placed Australian book was Tim Winton's Cloudstreet, which made fifth spot." The Age (Melbourne) 12/08/04

Ah, The Writing Life (What Life?) "There are many pitfalls in a literary career, including convincing folks you have one. Writers, like Pavlov’s dogs, actually do learn, and after jettisoning all that romantic baggage that books are about what’s between the pages, they see with clear eyes the genius of the marketplace. The book business has never been more about moving units, though hawking novels, even the big ones, can be much harder than selling wet dog turds." LA Weekly 12/02/04

Monday, December 6

When Historians Copy The Past In the past few years there have been several high-profile cases of historians plagiarizing. "Their cheating ways go right to the ailing heart of the history profession, which, to its detriment, has dropped the ball on governance. There’s something very wrong in the house of history when the right-wing Weekly Standard passes as the profession’s whistleblower and chortles over careless mistakes by liberal historians." New York Observer 12/01/04

Sunday, December 5

Jon Stewart Wins Book Of The Year Earlier this year TV critics named Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" the best newscast on TV. Now Publisher's Weekly has named his satirical book "America (the Book), a Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction," its book of the year. "The magazine said, in its issue to be published on Monday, that, 'in a year defined by political polemics, it seems fitting that PW's Book of the Year be one in which the authors survey the entire political system and laugh'." Yahoo! (Reuters) 12/04/04

"Booknotes" Retires; Its Creator Doesn't C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb has always been a strong proponent of literature in an age in which television is dominant in the lives of most Americans, and he has regularly used his family of networks to promote books and authors. But this weekend, Lamb's self-hosted and much-admired series "Booknotes" comes to an end on C-SPAN's air. The decision to end the series was Lamb's own, but he has no intention of leaving behind his passion for reading, or his efforts to call attention to deserving authors. The New York Times 12/04/04

Thursday, December 2

Sylvia Plath In The Original A new edition of Syvia Plath's last collection of poetry - restored to the author's intentions - has been published. It includes a forward by the author's daughter... Morning Edition (NPR) (Audio link) 12/02/04

Sherlock's First Case The British Library is putting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first literary effort on display. "The contents have never been made public or published since Conan Doyle wrote the book while he was working as a doctor in Southsea, probably in the early to mid-1880s, soon after he finished his training at Edinburgh, the city of his birth." The Scotsman 12/02/04

Alabama Legisator Proposes Banning Gay Books An Alabama legislator is proposing legislation that would ban books with gay characters or themes from libraries in the state. "Our culture, how we know it today, is under attack from every angle," Gerald Allen says. "Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed. 'I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them'."
Birmingham News 12/02/04

Amazon - Not Just For The Books Anymore For the first time, Amazon, which began in the books business but has steadily diversified in recent years, has sold more of other products than books. "During the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, consumer electronics surpassed books as Amazon's largest sales category. The milestone, set at a time when its book business also posted record sales, is an important indication that Amazon can diversify beyond media products." Seattle Times 12/02/04

Wednesday, December 1

Lost Truman Capote Novel Found An unpublished first novel by Truman Capote, long thought lost, has been found in a box of photographs and documents abandoned by the author in 1966. The Guardian (UK) 12/02/04

Did Iris Murdoch Have Alzheimer's? A scientist has analyzed Iris Murdoch's later work and suspects that she may have been suffering from Alzheimer's. The analysis "found that her vocabulary had dwindled and her language become simpler. Alzheimer's is difficult to establish with certainty until after death, but the evidence was there in her last work, diagnosed by computer-based analysis of word use, Dr Peter Garrard reports in the December issue of the journal Brain." The Guardian (UK) 12/02/04

Taking On The Big Guys Where They Live A plucky young Canadian editor is mounting what might be considered the ultimate Quixotic challenge of the book world: building, opening, and running a major new independent bookstore in the heart of New York City. "She knows that the city's independent booksellers have been dying off, squeezed out by skyrocketing rents and stiff price competition from large chains, such as Barnes and Noble, which gives no quarter in the town where it began." But Sarah McNally comes from a family of experienced indie booksellers, and her family is throwing its considerable financial weight behind her new two-level, 7000-square-foot store in downtown Manhattan. The store opens this week with a staff of two dozen, and will stock 40,000 titles. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/01/04

Requiem For A Bookstore Boston's independent WordsWorth bookstore closed this fall, offering yet one more reminder of how much is lost to a community with the failure of an institution that everyone had assumed would always be there. "Sitting among the litter, among posters of authors such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jack Germond and not far from a dracaena that looked dried out and defeated, [the store's owners] pondered what they'd lost to bankruptcy -- the bookstore at 30 Brattle Street that had led to their meeting and, eventually, their marriage, their two children, and all the exhilaration derived from nearly three decades of doing what they loved, which is living among, or... just touching books." Boston Globe 12/01/04

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