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Wednesday February 28

  • MAKING HIS OWN STATEMENT: When Gao Xingjian was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature last fall, it was widely viewed by the English-speaking press as a political slap in the face of Beijing's repressive rulers, who had banned Gao's work. But this is one author who does not believe in using the power of his pen to effect change in the physical world. Instead, he calls for a "cold literature" to rise above all. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/28/01

  • SO IS ARTSJOURNAL JUST A BLOG? It seems that the latest craze in personalized online news is the "blog." Blogs are half online diary, half news clipping service, and many online addicts are forgoing the daily paper in favor of a few well-chosen blogs. Blogs is also a ridiculously fun word to say and type. Blogs blogs blogs. San Francisco Chronicle 02/28/01

Tuesday February 27

  • NOTES FROM THE UNDERGOUND: A publisher has set up vending machines in the London Underground to sell paperback books. "The imprint's crisply printed leaflets, colour-coded into series that include romance, crime and adventure, focus on authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, P G Wodehouse, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. We're unashamedly setting out to make people feel reading these stories will be an improving experience." Sydney Morning Herald 02/27/01
  • THE INDIES ARE BACK: Independent bookstores have been in crisis since the advent of megastores like Borders, and online warehouse services like Amazon.com. But now, many independents are reporting a resurgence, as measured in both walk-in and online clientele. Wired Radio 02/27/01 (Streaming audio file)
    • E-BOOKS GO OLD-SCHOOL: An online book publisher is running an experiment with four independent booksellers to see if old-fashioned, print-based readers will purchase an electronic version of their favorite new title. In addition to promoting the new technology, the publisher hopes the partnership will bring to light new methods of cross-promotion. Wired 02/27/01

Monday February 26

  • WALKER’S LAST WORDS? Alice Walker revealed in a recent interview that her latest book, "The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart," may in fact be her last. "I may want to do something else with the rest of my life." The Observer (London) 2/25/01
  • GIVE ME THREE: Name your three favorite female Scottish writers. Can’t do it? Well, neither could the creators of a new poster honoring "100 great Scottish writers" in which only one woman, Muriel Spark, was included. The omission has caused a stir at the Scottish Women's committee of International Pen, which immediately produced a more inclusive poster. The Herald (Glasgow) 2/26/01

Friday February 23

  • LITERATURE IN CHINA: Last year Gao Xingjian won the Nobel Prize for his novel about life in China; the year before, Ha Jin won the National Book Award for a similar work. But what are the Chinese themselves reading? Apparently, anything they can get their hands on. "[I]magine living in a dark room with all the shades drawn. If one shade goes up - just a crack - the light that enters is suddenly very interesting. Everyone will rush to look. People in a normally lit room would find the same ray of light unremarkable." New York Review of Books 03/08/01
  • BEING POPULAR ISN'T EVERYTHING: Harry Potter may be the biggest-selling phenomenon of the past year, but his creator, JK Rowling, lost out as author of the year at this year's British Book Awards. First place went to Nigella Lawson, who wrote a cookbook titled "How to be a Domestic Goddess." Rowling didn't even get the award for the best children's book; that went to Philip Pullman's "The Amber Spyglass." BBC 02/23/01

Thursday February 22

  • DOWN WITH THE CROWN: Crown Books, which was once the third-largest bookstore chain in the US, filed for bankruptcy. "Best known as a discounter, Crown is no stranger to bankruptcy. It filed for Chapter 11 in 1998, and emerged in November 1999. In its filing in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, the company said it had assets of $75.2 million and debts of $58.9 million. Crown has more than 1,000 creditors, according to its filing." Publishers Weekly 02/20/01
  • SO MUCH FOR BEDTIME STORIES: A publisher puts out a new e-book version of "Alice in Wonderland." One catch, though. The list of overreaching restrictions on what you can do with your copy is pretty onerous. Among them, admonitions that "This book cannot be given to someone else. This book cannot be read aloud." Inside.com 02/21/01

Wednesday February 21

  • GUARDING THE WAY IT WAS: "Wolfenbüttel, Germany is truly a small town, but it has a giant reputation in the world of humanities. Researchers gather there and come from all over the world, drawn in particular by the 17th-century collections and a remarkable library." But when the town recently decided to add a modern extension to the library, scholars were up in arms. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02/21/01
  • GAO AND OATES IN THE E-WORLD: Harper Collins wades forcefully in to e-waters, starting an electronic book imprint that will publish works by literary stars Nobel-winner Gao Xingjian and Joyce Carol Oates." allNetDevices 02/21/01
  • ADS IN MAD: There used to be two major ad-free US publications - Consumer Reports and Mad. Now there's only one. Facing a 90 percent dip in circulation, Mad has started running the ads it once satirized. The Boston Globe 02/20/01

Tuesday February 20

  • STUFFY AND OUT OF TOUCH WAS HOW WE LIKED IT: Last week’s much-anticipated launch of the "New Yorker" online (www.newyorker.com) doesn’t have everyone cheering. Oddly enough, it’s the internet-media enthusiasts who are railing the loudest. "When historians look back on the Internet Bubble, they'll mark February 2001 as the End of Web Publishing. That's because the Web-wary New Yorker has timed the debut of its hideous online edition to coincide with the total collapse of not just the business, but the very idea, of online journalism." Online Journalism Review 2/16/01
    • REMNICK DEFENDS THE SITE: "New Yorker" Editor David Remnick admits the magazine’s lengthy features will strain the patience of even veteran web readers, but "to not have a Web site is, at this point, a statement that I didn't want to make." New York Times 2/20/01 (one-time registration required for access)
  • DOES OPRAH KNOW? "McCall's" magazine, which ceased publication with the March 2001 issue, will return to newsstands as "Rosie," edited by, you guessed it, talk-show host and actress Rosie O'Donnell. Details are vague, but the magazine will likely attempt to make itself more distinguishable from the dozens of other similar monthlies on the rack. Less likely is the prospect of a return to "McCall's" literary glory days in the 1920s. Washington Post 02/20/01
  • SEARCHING... Remember when you had to actually go to the library or bookstore to look up an author? It's so much easier now with search engines. Why you can slide on over to Amazon, type in the name you want and... okay, so maybe it's not always foolproof. The Idler 02/20/01

Monday February 19

  • MORRISON AT 70: Writer Toni Morrison turns 70 and her friend turn up for a party. "Even at 70, Morrison continues to astonish her readers with a lyrical agility and a grasp of imagery so keen they seem to constitute a language of their own." Washington Post 02/19/01

Friday February 16

  • ADULTS PREFER SINNING: The Harry Potter books might be monster hits with children (three of the books sit atop the most-borrowed-by-kids list at British libraries). But adults prefer the late Catherine Cookson, the most borrowed author for 18 years in a row. Her "Solace of Sin" is twice as popular as Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." BBC 02/16/01
  • POETS NAMED BOB: What does it take to be named Poet Laureate of the United States? Some of the poets who have held the job: Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, Robert Penn Warren, Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Hayden, and, of course, most recently Robert Pinsky. We're sensing conspiracy here. But seriously, how is a Poet Laureate made? (crowned?) The Idler 02/16/01
  • THE ENDURING DANTE: In the last 20-30 years there has been an explosion of translations of Dante. Why the enduring appeal? "His comprehensive outlook is something for which, in our fragmented and rootless modernity, many of us yearn. Yet we also identify with Dante the realist, who speaks with such unencumbered directness to us of love and loss, violence and greed, hope and injustice—and in language that is at once high and low." The Economist 02/15/01

Wednesday February 14

  • WHAT MAKES A PUBLISHER? Publishing insiders are trying to figure out the implications of last month's firing of a Little, Bown publisher. Another sign of the creeping bottom line? Maybe not. "You see, the trick in glass-tower publishing isn't just choosing good books, or even vibrating to popular tastes, though that's surely important. It's not enough to be right. You have to be able to work the system." New York Magazine 02/12/01
  • AMBIVALENCE OF SUCCESS: Dave Eggers' book "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" is about to be released in paperback. It's been acclaimed and much pondered since its release last year. But "he dreaded returning to it, he writes, 'like one dreads seeing a bad-smelling distant elderly relative lying prone in a rank and wrong nursing home.' Just weeks before the paperback's publication yesterday, he half seriously asked his editors at Vintage Books if they could call the whole thing off." The New York Times 02/14/01 (one-time registration required for access)
  • INVALID VALEDICTORY: You may have seen a poem identified as the "farewell letter" of Gabriel García Márquez circulating on the Internet. It's poignant, because García Márquez has lymphatic cancer. It's galling, because he didn't write it. "[N]ot once during his long and distinguished literary career has Gabriel García Márquez ever written poetry." Brill's Content 02/09/01
  • RUSHDIE STILL THREATENED: The edict threatening the life of Salman Rushdie seemed to fade for a few years. Now a hardline Iranian newspaper is again calling for Rushdie's murder. "The daily said in an editorial that Rushdie's move to the United States would make his killing easier.... [T]he country's main military force issued a statement saying the death sentence against Rushdie still stands." Salon (AP) 01/13/01
  • THE [ONLINE] NEW YORKER: It wasn't the same under Tina Brown as it was under Harold Ross, but The New Yorker has often been regarded as the best magazine around. The best print magazine, that is. How will it stack up against the competition on the Internet? It's finally here. Take a look. The New Yorker 02/14/01

Tuesday February 13

  • XPUNGING XCESS AT XLIBRIS: The self-publisher Xlibris promised the future of publishing - the ability for anyone who wrote a book to get it published professionally - publishing on demand. But layoffs are expected early next week, and the Random House imprint will also restructure its business plan, scrapping plans to expand to Europe. Inside.com 02/12/01

Monday February 12

  • 300 BOOKS: Being a judge for the National Book Awards is an honor. But also a chore when the 300 books arrive at your door. "To keep up with the grueling schedule the judges had been set, I read nonstop, pausing only to jot down notes and questions before picking up a new book. I'd immerse myself in the worlds of the novels until words ran together. When I closed a book, sometimes it took me a moment to remember where I was. It was a reading experience unlike any I'd ever undertaken, even during graduate school at Berkeley." The New York Times 02/12/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Friday February 9

  • REPORTING OUR HISTORY: Random House has hired a couple of reporters to dig into the publisher's history and interview its employees. ''We have a strong feeling that we've got a rich tradition to recount that will be of interest and maybe of practical instruction for ourselves and maybe a wider universe of people.'' Inside.com 02/08/01
  • GIVING VOICE: Minneapolis and St. Paul are home to the nation's largest Hmong population, most of whom settled in Minnesota in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Largely ignored until recently, Hmong artists are beginning to be featured prominently, and a local arts journal is leading the charge. St. Paul Pioneer Press 02/09/01

Thursday February 8

  • WHO COULD SCARE A PUBLISHER? A LIBRARIAN, OF COURSE: Publishers sell books. Their natural enemies are librarians. With images of Napster clouding the bottom-line, publishers have hired a new white knight, former US Congressperson Pat Schroeder. "They're terrified," she says of publishers. "Technology people never gave their stuff away. But now folks are saying, 'You mean the New England Journal of Medicine is charging people?' " Washington Post 02/07/01

Wednesday February 7

  • ONLINE KING: Stephen King stopped writing his on-line novel "The Plant" because not enough people were paying for it. Or because he was too busy with other projects. Or because the six completed parts can stand alone. "In my view, 'The Plant' has been quite successful," he said, revealing it had netted him $463,832.27. The Ottawa Citizen (CP) 02/07/01
  • DO WE NEED ELASTIC NOVELS, OR FLEXIBLE CRITICS? A lot of critics thought Don DeLillo's "Underworld" was too long. Not John Leonard. "All DeLillo did was to dream the whole repressed history of American cold war culture, from J. Edgar Hoover to AIDS. If you are too lazy for nomadic wandering in such a brilliant maze, stick to stock quotations." DeLillo's back with another, shorter novel, and Leonard's here again to defend him. New York Review of Books 02/22/01

Tuesday February 6

  • AN URBAN AFFAIR: A new book on the 21st-century city by professor Joseph Rykwer explores just what makes the world’s best cities so seductive, and the worst so unlivable. "[Rykwer] makes the same point as the Seattle rioters in a rather gentler and more erudite way. His civilised anger is directed against traffic engineers and planners who, in seeing a city merely as a set of functional problems, ignore its poetic nature. Their exercise is ultimately self-defeating as, if cities lose their emotional raison d'être, it's irrelevant how smoothly the traffic flows." London Evening Standard 2/05/01

Monday February 5

  • THE BIG WHIFF: "Almost any substantial work of fiction or nonfiction that doesn't become a bestseller qualifies as a midlist book, one that doesn't make the 'front' of a publisher's seasonal list of upcoming titles. It probably sells somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 hardcover copies (writers whose sales sink below that may have trouble finding commercial publishers) and a high of 20,000 to 25,000. Beyond the numbers, however, the word 'midlist' has acquired a stigma, an unnerving whiff of low sales expectations." Washington Post 02/04/01
  • A MATTER OF AUTHORSHIP: Nega Mezlekia, an engineer living in Toronto, ought to have been flying high after his memoir "Notes From the Hyena's Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood," was cheered by critics and won a prominent Canadian literary award. But another writer has come forward to say that she wrote much of the book and wants some of the credit. Lawsuits are flying. The New York Times 02/05/01 (one-time registration required for access)
  • E-BOOK EVOLUTION: Last week, Random House launched its e-book imprint, with several high-profile authors contributing new electronic-only titles. Now, several veteran publishing figures have announced the impending arrival of Rosetta Books, an online e-publisher of backlisted literature. Publishers' Weekly 02/05/01

Sunday February 4

  • YOUNG LIABILITY: Literary prizes shed only a vague light on what constitutes enduring talent. What is it that lit prizes have against young writers? The Telegraph (London) 02/03/01
  • SAVED BY THE PRIZE: Matthew Kneale was struggling as a writer before he won the Whitbread awrd last week. "If the novel had sunk without trace, it would have been a body blow, both financial and psychological, from which he might never have recovered. Now suddenly he is soaring. On such happy accidents - or bold gambles, depending which way you look at it - careers turn." The Telegraph (London) 02/03/01

Friday February 2

  • NEXT CHAPTER(S)? Who's going to buy Canadian book superstore Chapters? And why do they want the money-losing chain? The tender offers are being mailed out. CBC 02/01/01
  • RANDOM HOUSE TAKES THE E-PLUNGE: Random House has become the first publisher to officially launch an E-books-only imprint. "At Random" will publish 20 original titles to start with, ranging from writing collections to celebrity biographies to serious fiction. The titles will also be available as "print-on-demand" paperbacks, but will not be sold in traditional bookstores. CBC 02/02/01

Thursday February 1

  • QUALITY IS OVERRATED: An Oakland-based web site is pushing the notion that anyone can write a book, and is sponsoring periodic "National Novel Writing Months" with an eye towards churning out as many full-length narratives as possible. Anyone can participate, and anyone who reaches a 50,000 word count is judged a "winner." One past winner advises, "Write as if nobody will read it, ever." San Francisco Bay Guardian, 01/31/01
  • NEW CLASSICS: New translations of literary classics come out every year, and it can be hard to remember just why we need them. "Well, why do we need another recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? The thing to remember about the classics is that different aspects of a work emerge as important at different times, so there's never going to be one translation that stops everyone in their tracks and says, ‘This is it.’" New York Times 2/01/01 (one-time registration required for access)

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