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Monday, October 31

Harry Potter US Sales Lagging? (2.5 Million Copies Unsold) "Even though Americans have bought 11 million copies of the latest epic adventure, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the book remains at number two in the Publishers Weekly sales chart, Scholastic's adoption of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's most famous pupil is causing it financial grief. Stacks of unsold copies are collecting dust in bookstores and warehouses across the US, and Scholastic - the world's largest distributor of children's books, and best known in the UK for Clifford the Big Red Dog - is bracing itself for an avalanche of returned copies." The Independent (UK) 10/30/05

The "Silent Spring" Of Global Warming? "Following in the tradition of policy-changing books like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, published in Australia four weeks ago, was cited by that country's Environment Minister in an announcement yesterday that the government will officially recognize and address global warning as a growing threat. Now the book’s American publisher, Grove/Atlantic, hopes it will prompt U.S. policymakers to do likewise." Book Standard 10/31/05

Sunday, October 30

Microsoft Joins The Book-Scanning Race Microsoft is joining the online digital book-scanning race. But "instead of forging its own path in the book-digitizing business — a wilderness of tricky copyright laws and technical challenges — MSN is joining a group already at work in the area. The division will align with the Open Content Alliance, which is backed by Yahoo! and aims to initially focus on scanning and digitizing classic books not bound by copyright restrictions." Seattle Times 10/26/05

Study: Men Are Drifting Away From Magazines A study by Time, Inc, "the world's largest magazine publisher, finds a new, noticeable slide in men's magazine usage, while women's usage is holding steady. A mere five years ago there was no gender gap. Time Inc.'s research found that men spend more time with new media than women, which may account for the decline. Thus the distortion of long-held media habits continues." BusinessWeek 10/28/05

Batman Defeated By A Maus? It may not be on the radar of most of the publishing industry, but a war for the hearts and minds of comic book readers is raging, pitting purveyors of traditional superhero-themed serials against the increasingly highbrow authors of book-length graphic novels. Increasingly, the highbrows are winning, and many comic sellers say that the old guard has only itself to blame. "[Superhero comics are] not being written for the traditional 13-year-old boy any more, but for a 40-year-old who wants to read what he read when he was 13... It's still all guys in tights pounding each other." Toronto Star 10/29/05

Shakespeare For The Casual Fan Speculation about Shakespeare - who he was, what he did, even whether he really existed - has become a profitable literary subgenre, with new books constantly being released to propound ever more unbelievable theories of the Bard, and others written expressly to dismiss such pie-in-the-sky ideas. It's actually become difficult for a casual reader to find a straight-ahead, informative, and engaging biography of the playwright, in the same way that it is hard to find a book featuring an objective dissection of American foreign policy under George W. Bush. But "amid all this specialized debate, there is also a steady flow of less agitated books intended for the general reader, including three particularly insightful and well-written ones in the last year or so." The New York Times 10/29/05

Thursday, October 27

Amazon Growth Slows To counter a slowdown in sales increases, Amazon is extending its free shipping offer in the UK. "Amazon said growth this year would be between 13% and 24%, below the 31% recorded last year." The Guardian (UK) 10/27/05

A Home For Poets? "Canterbury could be home to a vibrant community of poets sharing their thoughts over a cup of coffee or glass of wine before leading a workshop or giving readings of their work to the public. The idea of a permanent building for poets and their work which would have an all-year-round programme of performances and workshops, is based on the French idea of 'maisons de poésie': 'houses of poetry' that exist throughout France and have spread across the French-speaking world, from Quebec to Morocco. The facilities within each maison vary, but generally encompass a performance space, a publishing or printing house, a library and information resource for poets and researchers and a cafe or bar. Some also boast residential accommodation to put up visiting poets or house a poet-in-residence." The Guardian (UK) 10/27/05

da Vinci Code Lawsuit Gets Trial Date Two writers have sued da Vinci Code author Dan Brown. "A trial will begin on 27 February in London to hear the claim that Brown stole Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh's idea that Jesus had a child. They are suing Random House, claiming the bestseller lifts from their 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail." BBC 10/27/05

Books For People Who Don't Read Books By People Who Don't Write Books Simon & Schuster would like to sell more books to the 20-something crowd, and its new imprint, SSE, is taking an unconventional route towards that end. SSE's publishers don't spend their time at international book fairs, scouring the booths for the next hot author. They're more likely to seek out creative and interesting individuals who've never written a book in their lives, and cajole them into giving it a shot. Call it Pop Culture Lit, call it amateurish dreck, but one thing is sure: SSE is making money. The New York Times 10/27/05

Wednesday, October 26

The Lolita Before The "Lolita"? Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" is 50 years old this year. But a researcher has dug up "a 1916 short story by the aristocratic German writer Heinz von Eschwege (1890-1951), a German newspaper journalist (and descendant of the Grimm Brothers) who wrote under the pen name Heinz von Lichberg and later became a Nazi Party propagandist. The story involved a cultivated middle-aged man bewitched by a preteen beauty named Lolita. It appeared as one of a collection of 15 tales published by Falken Verlag in Darmstadt under the title, 'The Accursed Giocanda'." Philadelphia Inquirer 10/26/05

A Series Of Fortunate Career Moves "As Daniel Handler and his editor, Susan Rich, laugh together and share anecdotes about how they launched A Series of Unfortunate Events, it's apparent that they're both still gobsmacked by their success. The Lemony Snicket books have sold 46 million copies, and the total is ballooning every day with the release this month of the 12th of a projected 13 in the series, The Penultimate Peril." Handler actually didn't start out with the intention of being a children's author, but after several failed attempts at getting publishers interested in his adult fiction, he pitched his "terrible" idea for the Lemony Snicket series, and in no time, he was one of the hottest commodities in young adult literature. Toronto Star 10/26/05

Still, It Beats The Usual Political Memoir (zzzzz...) Politicians do not generally make great novelists. (Heck, for most of them, getting through a speech without falling all over themselves constitutes a minor victory.) So one could be forgiven for sneering a bit at California Senator Barbara Boxer's debut novel, which pits a liberal senator (surprise!) against an arch-conservative nominee to the Supreme Court. But wait - Boxer wrote the novel over a year ago, long before the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the subsequent death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The parallels to the current dust-up over Court nominee Harriet Miers are palpable, and make the book worth a look. Of course, Boxer is a blue-state pol first and foremost, so red-staters looking for a sympathetic (or realistic) portrayal will be sorely disappointed. Los Angeles Times 10/26/05

Tuesday, October 25

Some Authors Side With Google Against Publishers Publishers are suing Google over the company's plans to digitize libraries of books. Says Google: "The world would be a much worse place if the card catalog in a library only contained the books that the publisher had come by and put in" Some authors agree with the search giant, and believe that making their work freely searchable online will boost their stature and sales. Wired 10/25/05

Vanity Fare Why do people buy books? To look good. A new survey reports that "driven partly by pressure from incessant literary prize shortlists, more than one in three consumers in London and the south-east admit having bought a book 'solely to look intelligent', the YouGov survey says." The Guardian (UK) 10/25/05

Looking At This Year's Canadian Poetry Award Shortlist Traditionally, Canada's Governor General's Award poetry shortlist "offers a mix of old hands and new faces, a modest range of styles and at least one what-were-they-thinking title. Extravagantly experimental work seldom gets a mention, but inventively tweaking the standard lyrical narrative often helps a book stand out from the crowd. (And it is a crowd: the 2005 jury read 144 collections.) This year’s list follows suit, though there’s neither an oddball choice nor a brand-new 'It' poet to be found." CBC 10/25/05

Monday, October 24

Death Of Writing And Other Old Battles Is Ben Marcus right that experimental writing is dying? He's "justified in criticizing a publishing industry, and a culture, that often recycles the same ideas and stories while ignoring writers whose work is too unpleasant, or destabilizing, or unsympathetic to be absorbed at a glance. His list of writers who 'interrogate the assumptions of realism and bend the habitual gestures around new shapes' is one many readers would embrace, and his contention that The New Yorker doesn't publish enough challenging fiction is absolutely on the mark. But ultimately he's pantomiming a battle that, if it ever really existed, ended decades ago." Slate 10/24/05

  • Previously: The Great Experimenters (And Why) "Even while popular writing has quietly glided into the realm of the culturally elite, doling out its severe judgment of fiction that has not sold well, and we have entered a time when book sales and artistic merit can be neatly equated without much of a fuss, Jonathan Franzen has argued that complex writing, as practiced by writers such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett and their descendants, is being forced upon readers by powerful cultural institutions (this is me scanning the horizon for even the slightest evidence of this) and that this less approachable literature, or at least its esteemed reputation, is doing serious damage to the commercial prospects of the literary industry." So where is the evidence? Harper's 10/05

A Big Advance In Preserving Documents? Paper rots, even in books, and preserving documents has long bedeviled librarians. Now "conservationists are buzzing about a new technique developed by Ink Cor, a research group concerned with neutralizing the wasting effect of corrosive inks without damaging the underlying paper. The group recently completed a prototype treatment using halide salts, a colorless antioxidant that can prolong the life span of paper containing corrosive ink by a factor of 10." Wired 10/24/05

Publisher Settles Over Jung Bio "Random House has ended a literary dispute over a biography of Carl Gustav Jung by publishing a new version this month in Germany without special annotations and material from the Swiss heirs who had complained about 'factual errors' and 'misleading' information about the psychiatrist." International Herald Tribune 10/13/05

Alt-Weeklies Merge Into Corporate The Village Voice and its chain of five other alt weeklies is merging with the New Times chain. "The deal would create a chain of 17 free weekly newspapers around the country with a combined circulation of 1.8 million." The New York Times 10/24/05

  • Not Much Alt About Alt-Weeklies Anymore Critics worry that the merger of Village Voice and New Times will corporatize the alternative weeklies. "Despite their liberal, anti-establishment pedigree, alternative weeklies such as New Times and Village Voice long ago became big business. They are free and stuffed with music and arts coverage, they rake in piles of cash from entertainment ads and personal classifieds. Village Voice Media is owned by a consortium of investment banks that beat out New Times five years ago." Washington Post 10/24/05

In Publishing, All Roads Lead To Frankfurt Even in the era of instant electronic communication, the annual five-day Frankfurt Book fair is still the publishing world's event of the year. "In a way, the parties are now the real business. 'It's the chance to rub shoulders with these really intelligent writers and publishers, and to talk about books that you care deeply about. That's the reason you're in this field. You forget that sometimes in New York because of the overwhelming business-ness of it'." The New York Times 10/24/05

Sunday, October 23

UK: Let's Keep Our Writers' Papers At Home There's a new campaign in the UK to try to stop the papers of important writers from being bought up by American institutions. "The campaign comes amid fears that the papers of Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith and Kazuo Ishiguro, author of The Remains of the Day, may go abroad. All three are understood to have been approached recently by agents acting for institutions in America. In recent years British authors whose papers have been sold abroad include the novelists Peter Ackroyd, Julian Barnes and Malcolm Bradbury and the playwrights David Hare and Tom Stoppard." The Times (UK) 10/23/05

Quills - Not Enough Glitz, And Yet... The Quill Awards were created to add some glitz to literary awards. "In its first year, the Quills didn't come close to the Oscars in the glamour department. There were no A-list celebrities in attendance; viewers will have to settle for actors like Cattrall and Matthew Modine, who both have their own books to promote. But supporters believe that the ceremony made some progress in jazzing up publishing's staid reputation. But it remains to be seen whether viewers will tune in — and, more broadly, what kind of influence the Quills will have on sales and the image of the book publishing industry." Los Angeles Times 10/22/05

Friday, October 21

What Happened To Great Magazine Covers? "It is one of the great signposts of the modern world, the wall of magazines to be found in every newsagent, in every railway station, and in every library in Britain, but in recent years these displays have become torture racks, revealing everything that is mean and cynical about how we live. It's hard to believe those covers were once the repository of things gracious, beautiful and imaginative." The Telegraph (UK) 10/20/05

Thursday, October 20

Book Publishers Become Book Sellers Major book publishers have quietly gone into the online bookselling business. "The publishers, including Simon & Schuster, Random House and Penguin, claim to have limited retail ambitions and are simply trying to use their websites to help readers. 'We can offer features, services and guidance that might be difficult for another retailer to provide. What we're not going to be is competitors to Amazon or any other retailer in this area'." Wired 10/20/05

Wednesday, October 19

Time: 100 Best Books What are the 100 all-time best novels? Time magazine made a list... Time 10/18/05

Publishers Sue Google The Association of American Publishers has filed a lawsuit against Google for its print-digitizing project. "The suit was filed on behalf of McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin Group (USA), Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons. AAP President Patricia Schroeder said that the publishers viewed legal action as a last resort and had filed suit only when Google refused to agree to making separate permissions requests for each in-copyright book it scans in the libraries of Stanford University, Harvard University and the University of Michigan." The Book Standard 10/18/05

Penguin Snaps Up Chinese Novel For $100,000 China's best-selling novel, The Wolf Totem, is coming to the U.S. Penguin Books has purchased the American rights to Jiang Rong's 2004 work for $100,000, a record sum for a Chinese book. "The meticulously researched, semiautobiographical tale is built around the lives of wolves told through the eyes of a student sent to work on the Inner Mongolian grasslands. It is set during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong emptied the cities of educated youths to have them work alongside peasants and herders. Critics and readers have praised its exploration of the relationship between man and animal, accurate detail and spiritualistic questioning." Chicago Tribune (AP) 10/19/05

And Coming Soon, The Performance Art Version! "Strunk and White's legendary Elements of Style was first published in 1959, and in the intervening decades, this little book on language and its proper usage has been force-fed to countless high school English students, who have read it zealously, dog-eared key pages, showered it in graphite love or else completely disregarded and forgotten it, usually at their own risk... [A]ppreciation for this slim volume takes a turn toward the whimsical and even surreal this week, as the Penguin Press publishes the first illustrated edition, featuring artwork by Maira Kalman, and the young composer Nico Muhly offers a finely wrought Elements of Style song cycle, to be given its premiere tonight [at] the New York Public Library." The New York Times 10/19/05

Tuesday, October 18

Rough Seas For Wikipedia? The Wikipedia has enjoyed charmed press and its supporters' claims of a new collaborative world are impressive. But an increasing number of critics are complaining about Wiki's quality problems. "In theory, Wikipedia is a beautiful thing - it has to be a beautiful thing if the Web is leading us to a higher consciousness. Only it isn't. An encyclopedia can't just have a small percentage of good entries and be considered a success. I would argue, in fact, that the overall quality of an encyclopedia is best judged by its weakest entries rather than its best. What's the worth of an unreliable reference work?" The Register 10/18/05

Canada's Major Lit Prizes Disagree "Not one of the five novels nominated for the Governor-General's was on the Giller short list - a fact that attests to the inherent subjectivity of juries and, perhaps, to the breadth and depth of Canada's literary talent. All of the 42 shortlisted novelists, poets, dramatists, essayists, translators, childrens' writers and illustrators were announced yesterday in Toronto. A total of 69 books were nominated for this year's awards, in seven categories in both French and English." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/18/05

Canada's Governor General Awards Finalists Finalists for this year's Governor General's Literary Awards have been announced. "The fiction nominees include David Gilmour's A Perfect Night to Go to China, Charlotte Gill's Ladykiller, Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road, Kathy Page's Alphabet and Golda Fried's Nellcott Is My Darling. In addition to the $15,000 cash prize in each category, each laureate will receive a specially crafted copy of his or her winning book. The winning publishers receive $3,000. Non-winning finalists receive $1,000 each." CBC 10/18/05

Monday, October 17

First Saddam, Now Karadzic (Everyone's A Writer) War-criminal-on-the-run Radovan Karadzic has published a volume of poetry. "Karadzic's publisher told AP news agency the poems had been completed in the past few months, but refused to say how they came into his possession. They describe mountains, thick green forests, rivers and wild animals. Mr Karadzic is accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the persecution of non-Serbs in Bosnia." BBC 10/17/05

Poet, 79, Wins Literary Award Landis Everson wins a new literary prize for writers over 50 who have never published a book. "Everson, 79, quiet, pixieish and a little frail after a cataract operation, answered, smiling, 'Imagine, if you had written a letter to a friend in Chicago and you never had an answer, and you kept writing and writing and not getting any answer back, would you keep writing?' No matter. Mr. Everson will now receive the Emily Dickinson First Book Award of $10,000, with publication of his book underwritten by the foundation." The New York Times 10/17/05

Genre-ly Speaking It's A Bad Idea The publishing world is too hung up on genres, insisting that every book be categorized and ranked. "What is it, when Man Booker juries meet, that makes genres 'inferior'? Why is crime writing, with its 'very conscious structure'and ability to raise 'big moral issues' outside the box of introversion, such a poor relation of 'literary fiction'?" The Guardian (UK) 10/17/05

Sunday, October 16

Fiction Down... "Has American culture begun to mimic the chronic nostalgia of a certain strain of post-imperial Englishness? Is the embrace of these fantasies part of, in Michael Moorcock's words, a 'longing to possess, again, the infant's eye?' Or is there something in them that speaks to the moment more clearly than, say, 'Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous'?" Boston Globe 10/16/05

An Author's Festival Begins A New Chapter "Two years after Greg Gatenby's resignation as director, Toronto's International Festival of Authors' founder is a long way from having been forgotten. But the annual program of readings, author interviews and panel discussions — the 26th edition of which runs Wednesday to Oct. 29 — gives every appearance of continuing to thrive under successor Geoffrey Taylor, contrary to concerns expressed by some at the time of Gatenby's departure." Toronto Star 10/15/05

Friday, October 14

Simon: No To Pinter Nobel Flamethrower John Simon objects to Harold Pinter winning the Nobel Prize for literature: "I would have gladly accorded him the Nobel for Arrogance, the Nobel for Self-promotion, or the Nobel for Hypocrisy—spewing venom at the United States while basking in our dollars—if such Nobels existed. But the Nobel for Literature? I think not." Radar 10/14/05

Thursday, October 13

Booker Sponsor Under Investigation The Booker Prize hasn't had a good week. "Now comes news that that a division of the prize sponsors, the Man Group, is under investigation in the US by the Securities and Exchange Commission. After the collapse of the Philadelphia Alternative Asset Management hedge fund, its receiver has alleged that a senior employee at the Man Financial brokerage business - with whom PAAM worked - helped to hide $175m. of losses from investors." The Independent (UK) 10/14/05

Who Is The Real JT LeRoy? The elusive author's behavior makes many question who he is or if he really exists. "For all its abuse and kinky sex, the JT story is really just another heartwarming rags-to-riches tale for the punk generation. But what if America isn’t really the sort of place where a street urchin can charm his way to the top, through diligence and talent; what if instead it’s the sort of place where heartwarming stories of abused children who triumph through adversity are made up and marketed?" New York Magazine 10/10/05

Students Point To Truth About The Publishing Business Students at a Canadian college were given an assignment - develop a publishing business. "So what did these aspiring publishers, mostly in their 20s with a few senior faces among them, tell us about publishing? Well, the first inescapable fact was that not a single one of those five proposed publishing houses planned to publish fiction. No novels, short stories and definitely, as Scott Griffin, founder of the world's most lucrative poetry prize pointed out, no poetry." The Globe & mail (Canada) 10/13/05

What Made The National Book Awards Finals Historical novels dominate this year's nominees. "In contrast to last year, when unknown names dominated the list, several other recognized and respected authors were also included." The New York Times 10/13/05

Bennett: Boycott Book Chains Author Alan Bennett is urging readers to boycott major chain bookstores and buy at independent book shops. "I'm not trying to do Waterstone's down, but all the big chains heavily discount the book, the worst being Amazon. This will drive independent booksellers out of business. In my local bookshop in Camden Town, that happened about three weeks ago. It makes the whole street much duller. So if you can afford it, go to an independent bookseller." BBC 10/13/05

Harold Pinter Wins Nobel "The Nobel academy said Pinter's work 'uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms'. The playwright is known for speaking out on issues like the war on Iraq. He is the first British winner since VS Naipaul in 2001." BBC 10/13/05

Wednesday, October 12

This year's National Book Awards Finalists Here's the list Yahoo! (AP) 10/12/05

The People's Choice Awards (Minus The People) "J.K. Rowling, Jon Stewart, and Stephen King were among the winners last night of the first annual Quills Awards, people's choice book prizes better known so far to the industry than to the public. Rowling, author of the multimillion-selling Harry Potter books, won for book of the year and best children's chapter book for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince... But the Quills can hardly claim a broad mandate with readers. According to comScore Networks Inc., which tracks the Internet, the Quills site attracted so little Web traffic during the voting period, fewer than the threshold of 25,000 unique visits a week, that it can't even offer an exact number." Boston Globe 10/12/05

Tuesday, October 11

Reinventing Comic Books For A Darker, More Cynical Age "DC Comics is in the midst of a major effort to revitalize the company's fabled superheroes for the 21st century and better connect with today's readers. The undertaking, which began in 2002, has involved a critical look at DC's characters - from Aquaman and Batman to Zatanna - and developing story lines that sometimes have heroes engage in decidedly unheroic deeds... If fans embrace the new DC superhero universe, the gamble will be worth it. Last year, the comic book industry generated nearly $500 million in sales." The New York Times 10/12/05

Enter The Blooker Prize A website that helps authors self-publish their books has created a new literary prize for the best book based on a blog or website. Finalists will be announced next March, and the winner will take home $2000, which, well a modest sum, is more money than most self-publishing authors ever make on their books. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/11/05

Nobel Judge Resigns In Protest "A member of the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize for Literature, has resigned in protest at the choice of last year's winner. Knut Ahnlund said he was stepping down because the 2004 award went to Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek. The Academy member called Jelinek's work 'a mass of text shovelled together without artistic structure'. His attack on Jelinek's books and plays came days before the announcement of the 2005 winner, due on Thursday." BBC 10/11/05

Monday, October 10

Harry Potter & The Half-Wit Rent-A-Cop "A security guard who tried to sell stolen copies of the latest Harry Potter novel has admitted theft and possessing an imitation gun." The guard, who removed two copies of J.K. Rowling's insanely popular book from a warehouse and later attempted to sell them to British newspapers, still denies ever pointing the gun at a reporter for the tabloid Sun, as the journalist claims. BBC 10/10/05

Banville Wins '05 Booker John Banville has become the first Irish author since 1993 to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize for literature, in the most closely contested judging the contest has seen in years. Banville's novel, The Sea, just beat out Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, with the chairman of the judging panel casting the decisive vote. "Banville's win was a neat reversal of fortune. In 1989 his novel, The Book Of Evidence, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize but lost out to Ishiguro's The Remains Of The Day." The Herald (Glasgow) 10/11/05

Booker Announced Tonight The winner of the Booker Prize is to be announced tonight. "But it isn't for the $91,800 cash award that grown men threaten to shoot themselves. It isn't for the unquestionable increase in profits from sales, likely film and foreign rights. It isn't even for the glamour, though tonight's announcement, televised throughout the United Kingdom, is more like our Oscars than any bookish ceremony." It's the prestige... Los Angeles Times 10/10/05

Sunday, October 9

Are "Accessible" Translations Up To The Job? New translations of classics try to make work accessible to today's readers. "The question, though - and it's always a question now when it comes to translating the classics - is whether it is not too friendly to accommodate the difficulties of the original. This is a matter of fiery debate in the arts nowadays." The Telegraph (UK) 10/09/05

Literary Mag Granta Changes Hands "Sigrid Tausing, whose family made a fortune from Tetra-Pak drinks cartons, has bought the magazine from Rea Hederman, the owner of the New York Review of Books." The Guardian (UK) 10/08/05

Reinventing The Newsmagazine Newsweeklies are declining in circulation. Can they be saved? Ken Whyte thinks so, and he's making major changes to Canada's MacLean's to try to revive it. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/08/05

Elementary Watson! It's the Buildings "Sherlock Holmes is renowned for his groundbreaking forensic technique. But crucial to Arthur Conan Doyle's storytelling are the vivid descriptions of late Victorian and Edwardian London, indoors and out. They set the scene for the grisly goings-on in the foggy East End and the murky manoeuvrings of the better-bred in the city's west. They contain clues to help the reader solve the crime. And they give us insight into the complex inner world Holmes the man. Doyle is a must-read for budding architects." The Age (Melbourne) 10/09/05

Poetic Preoccupation "It may be going too far to call this a 'golden age' for poetry, as this year's Forward judges have done, but most of the poets jostling for these prizes do seem to be reaching for a readership beyond the seminar room. Sales of particular volumes may often be counted in the hundreds rather than thousands, but poetry does escape to what Milton called a 'fit audience, though few'. Free, unlike novelists, to be as recondite as they wish, they have surprising taste for accessibility. It might surprise traditionalists to find a common interest in poetry's formal polish and patterning, even rhyme and scansion. So what preoccupies the nation's poets - aside from obtaining the university posts teaching creative writing that now sustain many of them?" The Guardian (UK) 10/06/05

Canadian Network To Telecast Gillers CTV has picked up national broadcast of Canada's Giller Prize for literature. "The winner this year will be announced at a black-tie gala in Toronto Nov. 8, during a one-hour telecast live on CTV Newsnet. Three repeat airings will take place on the main network - after midnight, the following afternoon and the following weekend. In the past the Giller was broadcast on CBC and CHUM's Bravo and Book Television specialty channels." Yahoo! (CP) 10/09/05

Friday, October 7

Why Do We Love Lolita? It's been 50 years since Vladimir Nabokov penned Lolita, but the tale of a pedophile and his "nymphet" stepdaughter remains as baldly shocking and strangely moving as the day it was published. In fact, it's one of the top-selling books of all time. Some scholars suggest that it is Nabokov's unquestionably beautiful way with language that attracts us and gives his book such lasting appeal. But there may also be a darker obsession with underaged children as sex objects hiding beneath the surface of our literary interest. "How is it that a pedophile protagonist remains sympathetic enough to draw audiences? Why does this backward fairy tale -- Prince Charming as a monster -- endure?" Chicago Tribune (AP) 10/07/05

Poetry Awards Announced The Poetry Foundation, newly enriched by a major gift from an Indiana philanthropist, is using part of the largesse to fund a series of awards intended to raise the profiles of underrecognized poets. Some of the awards are so specific as to seem designed specifically for their winners - for instance, the "Emily Dickinson First Book Award, for an American poet older than 50 who has not yet published a book of poetry" - while others emphasize qualities frequently lacking in poetry, such as humor. Chicago Tribune 10/07/05

Thursday, October 6

Fagin The Jew: Anti-Semitism's Grip On Classic Lit The role of the Jew in Western literature has far too often been as a malevolent, money-grubbing villain who exists mainly to be bested by the blond-haired, blue-eyed hero. And if that Aryan-Nordic hero can be a child, so much the better, as Charles Dickens knew well when he conjured up the primary antagonist for Oliver Twist. "There is almost no other character to compete with Fagin for the title of the most grotesque and villainous Jew in all of English literature. Of all the 989 characters who sprang from the pen of Charles Dickens, the evil old gang-master is one of his most vivid caricatures." Even though modern morality has mandated that film and stage versions of the Dickens tale tone down the anti-Semitism, the disturbing stereotype is still pervasive. The Independent (UK) 10/07/05

Rebirth of an Indie Earlier this year, a much-beloved independent bookstore in Menlo Park, California closed, bowing to the same competitive pressures (from big chain booksellers and online retailers) that have taken out indie bookstores across the country. But in this case, the bookstore's community didn't sit idly by and mourn the passing - they passed the hat. "Local entrepreneurs developed a business plan to improve the store's long-term standing and also invested cash... $500,000 was raised from 17 individuals, who each pledged at least $25,000 to become shareholders. About 370 local residents also signed up to volunteer time to help the store." As a result, Kepler's Books and Magazines will reopen for business this weekend. The New York Times 10/06/05

Getting Past The P-Word The recent run of writers and historians facing allegations of plagiarism surfaced has seen some of America's best-loved authors and journalists exiled to the hall of shame that also includes steroid-popping baseball players and former Enron executives. But some writers seem to have an unusual ability to bounce back from such charges, even when their veracity seems indisputable. Take the case of presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who is embarking on a major book tour three years after she paid an undisclosed sum to settle an embarrassing lawsuit alleging plagiarism. Why is a major publisher still taking it's chances with a known copier? "Because she has a charming personality, because she has powerful friends, and not least of all because she writes like a dream." Boston Globe 10/06/05

We Can Think Of Some Poets We'd Like To Send Into Space... The UK's Poetry Society has conducted a poll to determine which poem Britons would most like to see shot into space - not as a way to get rid of it, you understand, more as a tribute to the spirit of poetry. The winner, announced in advance of Thursday's National Poetry Day celebrations, is "Human Beings," a poem by Adrian Mitchell. It's worth noting that there currently are no plans to actually shoot the poem into space, and a copy of it will reside at the UK's National Space Society for the foreseeable future. BBC 10/06/05

Wednesday, October 5

My Name Is Shakespeare, Theory #3,482 The latest theory in the who-was-Shakespeare sweepstakes has arrived: "An Elizabethan diplomat named Sir Henry Neville was the real author of William Shakespeare's plays, a new book claims." BBC 10/05/05

Delay In Nobel Lit Announcement Awarding of this year's Nobel Prize for literature has been delayed a week. "By tradition, the 18-member group that makes up the 219-year-old institution, announces on a Tuesday that it will name the winner the following Thursday at 7 a.m. EDT. It's also led to speculation that academy members may be locked in fierce debate as to who should take home this year's prize, which includes a $1.3 million prize, a gold medal and a diploma, along with a guaranteed boost in sales." Yahoo! (AP) 10/05/05

Tuesday, October 4

The Great Experimenters (And Why) "Even while popular writing has quietly glided into the realm of the culturally elite, doling out its severe judgment of fiction that has not sold well, and we have entered a time when book sales and artistic merit can be neatly equated without much of a fuss, Jonathan Franzen has argued that complex writing, as practiced by writers such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett and their descendants, is being forced upon readers by powerful cultural institutions (this is me scanning the horizon for even the slightest evidence of this) and that this less approachable literature, or at least its esteemed reputation, is doing serious damage to the commercial prospects of the literary industry." So where is the evidence? Harper's 10/05

The Threat Of Used Books? "According to the Book Industry Study Group, used book sales topped $2.2 billion in 2004, an 11 percent increase over 2003. Much of that growth can be credited to the Internet. While used sales at traditional stores rose a modest 4.6 percent, they jumped 33 percent online, to just over $600 million. More than 111 million used books were purchased last year, representing about one out of every 12 overall book purchases. By the end of the decade, the percentage is expected to rise to one out of 11, a troubling trend when sales for new works are essentially flat; authors and publishers receive no royalties from used buys." Yahoo! (AP) 09/28/05

Harry Sells 300 Million Books JK Rowling's Harry Potter series has sold more than 300 million copies. "The tales of the schoolboy wizard and his fight against the evil Voldemort have been translated into 63 languages." BBC 10/04/05

Monday, October 3

Levy Wins Orange's Best Of The Best Andrea Levy wins the Orange Prize for Fiction's best of the best award, for her novel "Small Island". The award was granted for the best of the first 10 winners of the Orange Prize which aims to recognise and promote women's fiction. The chairwomen of judging teams from each year chose Levy - who won the prize in 2004 - as the overall winner. BBC 10/03/05

Yahoo! Plans Its Own Digital Book Project Yahoo is starting its own program to digitize books, following Google's much publicaized project. "Yahoo will help digitise 18,000 works of American literature plus material from national and European archives. It hopes to avoid the legal action that has dogged Google's plan by adopting an opt-in policy on copyrighted works." BBC 10/03/05

Sunday, October 2

Paris Review's New Look "The magazine's design -- size, paper, type font -- has been updated for a new sleeker look, but its contents have only slightly changed. No drastic moves here. As has been the case since the magazine's inception, fiction, poetry and author interviews remain the central focus. But to that mix, Philip Gourevitch has added non-fiction writing and photographic essays." Chicago Sun-Times 10/02/05

Schizophrenic Book World Worries About Quills "You gotta admit a nationally televised awards show for authors has its challenges. Let's face it, most honorees are just a tad lower on the recognition-o-meter than your average Gwyneth Paltrows and George Clooneys. But for some, that's just the start of the problems with the Quill Awards, which, in the book world, has managed to strike as many nerves as the plastic surgeon who paralyzed Joan Rivers' face." Rocky Mountain News 10/02/05

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