Sunday, April 30
The Insidious Side Of Book "Packagers"
"What is new is the way the packaging operations dovetail so neatly with the values of the sprawling corporations that now control the publication of most books in America. It can come as no shock to anyone that they believe in marketing and the bottom line over and above everything else. When it comes to books for young readers, the result — in the overwhelming majority of cases — is a focus-group-driven literature of solipsism, which most children and adolescents ignore as bleak and inauthentic, despite all its calculated relevance." Los Angeles Times 04/29/06
Friday, April 28
Philip Roth At 73
"Roth is more measured than he once was, when notoriety and controversy seemed to dog his every move. In 1959 — before his career had even had a chance to get started — his short story "Defender of the Faith" ignited a firestorm over what Jewish writers should and shouldn't reveal about their culture... To see Roth now, though — contemplative, elegant, almost professorial, wearing a black V-neck sweater, blue pants and worn brown walking boots, thinning hair brushed back from his prominent forehead — is to recognize just how long ago that was." Los Angeles Times 04/30/06
Publisher Pulls Viswanathan Book
A novel by a Harvard student has been withdrawn from publication by the book's publisher. Michael Pietsch, the firm's publisher, said in a brief statement that bookstores would be asked to stop selling "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" and return any remaining copies to the publisher. He said the book's author, Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan, had agreed to the withdrawal. Washington Post 04/28/06
Pittsburgh Library A Hit With Kids
Who uses Pittsburgh's libraries? Kids. According to a new study, the city's Carnegie Library is a hit. "A magnet for teenagers and 20-somethings, the library rivals a shopping mall with its assortment of books, videos, DVDs and Internet access. The former bastion of the bookish, the library draws more crowds than the region's sports teams." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 04/28/06
Thursday, April 27
Why Lit Prizes Pass Over Women
"The most prestigious prize-giving culture in Britain still often shows itself weirdly unable to recognise and reward the greatest writing, and for some reason books by women are still often the ones that lose out. When Zadie Smith's ferocious and heartfelt novel On Beauty lost out in the Booker race last year to John Banville's desiccated The Sea, it was only what one has come to expect from the Booker prize." The Guardian (UK) 04/27/06
Dartmouth Review At 25
"For a quarter century, its jaunty pages have enlivened the idyllic campus in Hanover, N.H., challenging liberal presuppositions — sometimes raucously — while earning recognition as a model for conservative newspapers nationwide. Distributed door to door to every student and mailed to subscribers across the country, the Review has been at the center of stormy cultural and political debates since its inception." New York Sun 04/28/06
Everybody's A Cryptographer...
Apparently, the pull of The DaVinci Code is so strong that not even members of the bench can resist it. The judge in the now-dismissed plagiarism case against author Dan Brown has admitted that he embedded a code of his own within the text of his 72-page ruling, and says he will confirm its contents once someone breaks the code. The New York Times 04/27/06
Co-Authored By A Marketing Committee
The Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarism case has brought to light a profession many outside the publishing world have probably been completely unaware of: that of the "book packager." Alongside Viswanathan's name (and those of countless other authors) on the copyright page is the name "Alloy Entertainment," which specializes in coming up with ideas, characters, and plotlines that test well with a certain demographic of readers, then hiring an author to flesh out the details. The New York Times 04/27/06
Wednesday, April 26
- My Subconscious Made Me Do It
Kaavya Viswanathan continues to insist that she never intentionally copied passages of her novel from two books by Megan McCafferty, and said in an appearance on NBC's Today Show that her love for McCafferty's works must have led her to unconsciously paraphrase the author's words. Meanwhile, lawyers from Viswanathan and McCafferty's respective publishers are discussing the potential implications of the plagiarism, even as Viswanathan's publisher says that it has no intention of withdrawing the book. Boston Globe 04/27/06
Ottakar's Final Chapter?
Ottakar's is a quirky and offbeat chain of UK bookshops beloved by its clientele. "Writers, publishers and readers have been in a state of high anxiety since last autumn when it was first mooted that HMV (which owns Waterstone's) wanted to take over Ottakar's for some £97 million." The Telegraph (UK) 04/27/06
So, Another Advance Is Out Of The Question, Then?
The Harvard student-turned-author who confessed yesterday to "accidentally" plagiarizing parts of her first novel, has now been blasted by the publisher of the book she copied from. "In a statement issued today, [a senior VP of Crown Publishing] said that, 'based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act." The executive, Steve Ross, also says that there are more than 40 apparently lifted passages in Viswanathan's novel, and calls the situation "nothing less than an act of literary identity theft." Boston Globe 04/26/06
Tuesday, April 25
- Will This Become Another "Poor Me" Story?
Alex Beam isn't cutting Kaavya Viswanathan any slack for her alleged plagiarism, and points out that she didn't exactly "write" her own novel in the traditional sense, anyway. "[She] bought her way into Harvard -- her parents paid $10,000 to $20,000 to IvyWise, a college counseling service, according to The New York Times -- then lucked her way into a $500,000 two-book contract with Little, Brown & Co. She shares the valuable copyright on her first novel with 'book packager' Alloy Entertainment, which helped flesh out the novel's concept." Beam wonders whether Viswanathan will be able to slough off the blame for the copying on some anonymous Alloy staffer. Boston Globe 04/26/06
Orange Prize Shortlist Released
American author Nicole Krauss, first-time Australian novelist Carrie Tiffany, and UK writers Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters, and Ali Smith have been named as the finalists for Britain's Orange Prize for Fiction. The winner of the £30,000 prize will be announced in early June. The Independent (UK) 04/26/06
A (Last?) Look At Endangered Languages
"By the end of the century, linguists predict, half of the world's languages will be dead, victims of globalization. English is the major culprit, slowly extinguishing the other tongues that lie in its path... In the next two weeks, however, some of these endangered idioms can be heard at two international literary festivals that celebrate languages big and small, as well as the power and resilience of words themselves." The New York Times 04/25/06
Monday, April 24
Harvard Author Admits Plagiarism, But Not Guilt
"Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore accused of plagiarizing parts of her recently published chick-lit novel, acknowledged yesterday that she had borrowed language from another writer's books, but called the copying 'unintentional and unconscious.'... On Sunday, The Harvard Crimson reported that Ms. Viswanathan, who received $500,000 as part of a deal for [two books,] had seemingly plagiarized language from two novels by Megan McCafferty, an author of popular young-adult books." The New York Times 04/25/06
Book Man Gives Away Millions Of Books
Over the past 17 years Irwin Herman has given away 8 million books in San Diego. “My entire budget is $60,000. We give away half a million books a year, and nobody takes a dime out of it. When we come up short, somebody tosses something in. People bring us books. They bring us great stuff, and they bring us a lot of crap. Bring us your good books. Don't throw your crap in the garbage – bring it to us, we'll put it in recycling." San Diego Union-Tribune 04/23/06
Students Flock To New UK Writing Programs
"Universities across the country are cashing in on the glamorous new image, with 85 offering postgraduate creative writing courses, compared with fewer than 10 a decade ago. Lucrative book deals and the new breed of celebrity author have led to a surge of interest in a potential career in writing. " The Telegraph (UK) 04/23/06
Sunday, April 23
Waterstone's Founder Wants Book Chain Back
The founder of UK book chain Waterstone's has made an offer to buy back the company from HMV. "Mr Waterstone conceded that he was paying a very full price to regain control, especially as Waterstone's was facing an uphill struggle to win back market share from online booksellers such as Amazon and supermarkets. But relationships with the publishing industry had been badly damaged by the bid battle for Ottakar's and HMV would not be as well-placed to repair them, he said." The Guardian (UK) 04/23/06
British Library To Shift Its Intellectual Focus
China and India - already braced to become two of the world's greatest economic powers - are now expected to become two of its most important academic powerhouses. The British Library - renowned for collecting books, journals and artefacts from across the globe - is set to shift its focus from Western Europe towards China and India, to ensure Britons have access to the most important research. Staff will outline the new strategy on Tuesday along with their predictions that the two countries could overtake the West as intellectual and cultural hotspots." The Observer (UK) 04/23/06
Friday, April 21
Start Your Conspiracy Generators Now
DaVinci Code fanatics will have to wait a while longer for Dan Brown's much-anticipated sequel. The Solomon Key, which was originally expected to be released this spring, will now be delayed until sometime in 2007. The Globe & Mail (AP) 04/22/06
Thursday, April 20
Harry Potter - Banned In Atlanta?
Some Atlanta area parents are leading a campaign to have the Harry Potter books banned from local school libraries. "People who love the books say they are happy that kids are reading the books as much as they are. They say that the books are ultimately about good versus evil. But opponents say that the books with their magic wands and spells are all about evil." WXIA (Atlanta) 04/20/06
A Gathering Of Dying Languages
"By the end of the century, linguists predict, half of the world's languages will be dead, victims of globalization. English is the major culprit, slowly extinguishing the other tongues that lie in its path." The New York Times 04/21/06
Tonight, We Honor The Imprisoned Auth... Wait, He's Here?!
"A novelist from Turkmenistan whose books have been banned and who has been under house arrest for two years became the first writer in 20 years to personally accept a Freedom to Write award from PEN American Center, the writers organization, at its gala dinner Tuesday evening in New York. His appearance was a last-minute surprise. Until Friday, government authorities had told the writer, Rakhim Esenov, 78, that he would not be allowed to leave the country." The New York Times 04/20/06
Wednesday, April 19
The $8 Million Gamble
When Random House handed author Charles Frazier (of "Cold Mountain" fame) an $8 million advance for his next novel four years ago, the publishing industry gasped. "With just a one-page outline of the planned work, [Frazier] sold the second novel in an auction, and in so doing left behind the editor, Elisabeth Schmitz of Grove/Atlantic, who had discovered and nurtured him to success." The amount of the advance was unprecedented for such a new author, and now, as Frazier begins to hand in his manuscript, the industry will be watching closely to see whether Random House's investment was worth it. The New York Times 04/20/06
Ode To Lingua Franca
"You recall Lingua Franca, don’t you? Fewer and fewer do, although if you ask some of the best and brightest editors and writers at the dwindling number of serious magazines and periodicals around these days, you’ll probably find Lingua Franca in his or her past. It was a monthly magazine about the clash of ideas in literature, politics, history and philosophy, controversies that would otherwise be obscured within ivory towers, written for the educated, but not necessarily academic, reader. It soon became a much-talked-about phenomenon inside and outside academia." New York Observer 04/19/06
ReganMedia Departs NY For LA
Publisher Judith Regan is moving her operations to Los Angeles next month: "New York is like a bad relationship that you can't get out of, because you still think the sex is good. Well, I think the sex is pretty good in L.A. too!"
Los Angeles Times 04/19/06
Tuesday, April 18
Fuzzy Future For Canadian Almanac?
"On March 27, The Canadian Almanac and Directory sent a letter to what its staffers termed 'famous Canadians in the arts, sciences, sports, government and media' asking them to contribute essays on Canada, the land, the peoples, and so on, for the publication's 160th edition. A week later, the 159-year-old publication's U.S. owner, ProQuest Co. of Ann Arbor, Mich., announced that it was laying off staff at the Toronto office. Workers still in place were told to cancel those requests for essay contributions." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/19/06
Monday, April 17
Books On Your Phone
Simon & Schuster is launching a publishing service for mobile phones. "The deal, which will target 18 to 34 year-olds, will allow the imprint to market a number of its current and forthcoming titles through a subscription-based service that sends text messages, excerpts, previews and cover art to cell phone users. There will be "a nominal fee" for the content, with a portion of the revenue going to S&S." Publishers Weekly 04/18/06
Canadian Bookstore Goes To Court To Fight Government Censorship
A Vancouver gay bookstore is going to the Canadian Supreme Court to continue a fight against government bureaucrats who block books and magazines at the border. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/17/06
Brooks Wins Fiction Pulitzer
Geraldine Brooks wins this year's Pulitzer for fiction. "March," Brooks' invention of the Civil War adventures of the absent father from Louisa Alcott's classic "Little Women," was awarded the honor Monday. Yahoo! (AP) 04/17/06
Sunday, April 16
A Book Selection Gone Wrong
Ohio State University decided to pick a single book that its freshmen would all read. But the project of choosing that book has unraveled. "The suggestion of one member of the book selection committee that an anti-gay book be picked angered many faculty members, some of whom have filed harassment charges against the person who nominated that book. The faculty members in turn are being accused of trying to censor a librarian — and a conservative group is threatening to sue." InsideHigherEd 04/14/06
Kakutani - A Book Critic Who's Right But Too Judgmental?
Michiko Kakutani is a critical institution. She's been book critic at the New York Times for 25 years. "Her main weakness is her evaluation fixation. This may seem an odd complaint—the job is called critic, after all—but in fact, whether a work is good or bad is just one of the many things to be said about it, and usually far from the most important or compelling. Kakutani doesn't offer the stylistic flair, the wit, or the insight one gets from Kael and other first-rate critics; for her, the verdict is the only thing." Slate 04/10/06
What Would Beckett Have Thought Of All This?
Samuel Beckett is getting renewed attention this year on the 100th anniversary of his birth. But the author notoriously didn't like cult of celebrity that engulfed him. So what would he have thought of all this? "Theatergoers have laughed about how the famously reclusive author would have reacted to the sprawling festival, which by some counts is the sixth major posthumous celebration of his work. He wouldn't have turned up at a single event, and he couldn't have borne the hoopla element." The New York Times 04/15/06
Our Memoirist Age
What do publishers want to publish these days? "Memoirs have been strong sellers throughout this decade. But this year, publishers plan to put out twice as many as last year – there are likely to be as many as 40, according to Simba Information, a book-tracking company." Wall Street Journal 04/14/06
Friday, April 14
Vanity Fair's Recreative Cover
This month's Vanity Fair "green" cover has a pedigree. "A spokeswoman for the magazine acknowledged Wednesday that the cover photo of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Al Gore, shot by Annie Leibovitz, was "inspired" by "Ballet Society," a 1948 portrait by Irving Penn of George Balanchine and three collaborators. Although there's no mention anywhere in the magazine of the connection, the composition of the two photos is virtually identical, down to the leafy garland on Roberts' head." Women's Wear Daily 04/13/06
Thursday, April 13
Canadian Government Stops Talk By Scientist/Novelist
Canada's Environment minister has blocked a talk by a leading government environmental scientist about his novel. The book "is set in the not-too-distant future when global warming has made many parts of the world too hot to live in and has prompted a war between Canada and the U.S. over water resources." CBC 04/14/06
Wednesday, April 12
His Name Is My Name, Too
We tend to think of book titles as one-shot deals - once you've used it, it's yours. But in reality, there's nothing prohibiting publishers from reusing old titles if it suits their purposes - just go look up "The Island" on your favorite online bookseller, and see how many hits you get. "Romance, mystery and other genre books are particularly likely to have recycled titles because of the vast numbers that are published and their brief lives in the public's memory — meaning a name can be brought back within a few years." Los Angeles Times (AP) 04/13/06
Tuesday, April 11
The For-Profit Jesus
This Sunday is Easter, of course, and even if you're not particularly religious (or Christian,) odds are good you'll have trouble avoiding Jesus this weekend. In fact, Christianity is not only on the rise in the U.S., it's taking over the bestseller lists. That's fine for the fiction list, but "over on the nonfiction list, the laughable 'Jesus Papers' debuts at the No. 5 spot. 'Misquoting Jesus,' a proto-academic howler, ranks No. 8, followed by the conversational 'Home With God' at No. 10, and Garry Wills's 'What Jesus Meant' at No. 16." Alex Beam sees a trend emerging, and it isn't nearly so much about religious piety as it is about a cynical attempt to make millions off of gullible readers who will buy anything with the word Jesus on the cover. Boston Globe 04/12/06
Will The DaVinci Ruling Be A Precedent-Setter?
It was no big surprise this week when a UK judge rejected charges of copyright infringement against DaVinci Code author Dan Brown. But the ruling could have a wide impact on the publishing industry, codifying for the first time some set of rules for authors of fiction who choose to base their work on fact. Or could it? "To suggest, as Gail Rebuck, the chief executive of Random House, did outside court, that the judgement represented a significant victory for creative freedom, is probably going too far... The key issue is the amount of a book, both in quantity and quality, which is copied by someone else." BBC 04/12/06
Crowding The Shelves
"Birds travel in flocks, fish in schools. Sometimes books arrive in cohorts, too, testing the attention spans of booksellers, reviewers and, most of all, readers... For publishers and authors, these pileups can lead to a scramble to distinguish their books from the pack, with moved release dates and changed marketing plans. Authors battle to snag talk-show spots. Book reviews often pair books, and booksellers clump them onto a themed table. For readers, this can create confusion, or worse, fatigue." The New York Times 04/11/06
Sunday, April 9
The Monograph Solution
For 2-1/2 years now, Oxford University Press has been catering to the needs of academic librarians on a budget with "a browsable database that contains the complete texts of more than 1,000 Oxford monographs, in four areas: economics and finance, political science, philosophy, and religion. As a result, participating institutions no longer have to shell out for print copies of Oxford titles in order to make them available to faculty members and students." For cash-strapped university libraries, the program is a godsend, and far from hurting print sales of the monographs, the easy and cheap availability of the database appears actually to have stimulated interest. Chronicle of Higher Education 04/14/06
Friday, April 7
Camus Is Most Life-Changing
What are the noevls that most change men's lives? "The most frequently named book was Albert Camus's The Outsider, followed by JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. The project, called Men's Milestone Fiction, commissioned by the Orange prize for fiction and the Guardian, followed on from similar research into women's favourite novels undertaken by the same team last year." The Guardian (UK) 04/06/06
Thursday, April 6
DaVinci Charges Rejected
A judge in England has rejected the plagiarism case brought against DaVinci Code author Dan Brown by two authors of an earlier non-fiction book with some similarities to Brown's fictional plot. Most observers had expected the ruling, since a decision in favor of the plaintiffs would have turned much of what is understood of copyright law on its head. BBC 04/07/06
Tuesday, April 4
Because Dan Brown Really Needed More Money
Not that anyone was biting their nails waiting for this news, but The DaVinci Code is a hit as a paperback, too. Dan Brown's insanely popular and occasionally controversial novel has sold half a million copies in its first week in paperback, and the initial print run has been increased from 5 million to 6 million. The Globe & Mail (AP) 04/06/06
Will Previous Scandal Hurt Hendra's New Book?
Two years ago author Tony Hendra was promoting his bestselling book when his 39-year-old daughter said Hendra had abused her as a child. "Now, as Hendra prepares to promote his latest, a novel called The Messiah of Morris Avenue (in bookstores today), one question seems unavoidable: Will the new book be hurt by the old scandal?" Publishers Weekly 04/04/06
Monday, April 3
Sony Begins Selling E-Book Reader
Sony is beginning to distribute a new e-book reader, which it hopes will popularize the devices. "Ever since they emerged in the late 1990s, when they were widely labeled as the future of publishing, e-books have suffered because there was no popular device to read them on. Previous readers have been criticized for being difficult to look at and for lacking the intimacy of a bound paper text." Yahoo! (AP) 04/04/06
Sunday, April 2
Generation Change At America's "Serious" magazines
Four of America's most serious magazines - the Atlantic, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and Harper’s - all have new editors. What do the new chiefs have in common? Well, they're all male, they're all white, and they're young... New York Magazine 04/03/06
A Million Words Of English?
Earlier this year an amateur scholar in San Diego declared that some time this year the English language would get its one millionth word. Professional word mavens were not amused. The notion that English will soon achieve this milestone is... ridiculous? San Diego Union-Tribune 04/02/06
Waterstone to Take Over Ottakar's
The giant UK book chain Waterstone's has been granted approval to acquire Ottakar's, the specialist books company. "Small retailers warned that the deal would be another step towards 'clone- town Britain', further eroding the diversity of the high street, restricting consumer choice and, ultimately, leading to higher prices." The Guardian (UK) 03/31/06
The Online Novel - Just A Gimmick?
Walter Kirn is writing a novel online, in real time. But is there any advantage to this, wonders Sven Birkets. "The traditional aim of art, in response to deeply planted human needs, has from the first been fundamentally contemplative. The work offers a deliberate distancing from the chaos and turbulence of the immediate and allows the reader or viewer to process its tensions through the recognition of underlying patterns." Boston Globe 04/02/06