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APRIL 2002

Tuesday April 30

WHERE BOOKS DO BUSINESS: Publishers and bookstore owners gather in New York for BookExpo America, the industry's annual confab. The gathering is "the place where the publishing industry most clearly demonstrates the obsession with merchandise and marketing. Publishers often upstage each other with spectacles that are a far cry from the solitary pursuits of reading and writing. This year particularly the event will resemble a circus." The New York Times 04/29/02

BIG PLANS FOR THE BOOKER: Last week the Booker Prize and its new sponsor announced that the prize money for the winning book would jump from £20,000 to £50,000. But it looks like even bigger changes might be afoot, including expanding the award to include North America. The Independent (UK) 04/26/02

THE BIG BIG THING: Big money is ruining publishing, some say, forcing publishers to chase after elusive blockbusters at the expense of everything else. "Publishers are, in the main, putting out fewer titles and then really going after the big ones as hard as they can. You can't go into a bookshop with 300 titles and say `Here is my list'. You have to tell them, `This is the book that will get a massive marketing and advertising campaign'. And you can only do it for the big books.'' The Age (Melbourne) 04/30/02

Monday April 29

WHY NEWSPAPERS ARE CUTTING BOOK COVERAGE: In the past year American newspapers have cut back on their coverage of books. "Everybody's hurting: Why should book coverage be any different? Because book pages were different. Big-city papers aspiring to any stature have traditionally presented services that rarely pay their way in ad sales. Such public services permit papers to hold their heads up as civic assets and not just dealers in wood pulp. These include investigative reports, op-ed columns, letters pages, foreign news, special coverage of disasters – and book reviews and essays. No, books weren't included solely for snob value. Dailies do believe they educate and inform and maybe even elevate the local discourse. It's what separates them from Teen People." Dallas Morning News 04/28/02

WRITERS IN THE (WRONG) LIGHT: The New York Times recently had a fashion spread of prominent writers wearing very expensive clothes. Now, everyone knows most writers don't make lots of money. And even when they do, they're usually not the high-fashion model types. So why the con? "Does this seem petty to you? It's not. This is what's wrong with our culture now: everything comes down to money, or appearance. Writing is supposed to examine that, and remind us to look deeper. If writers actually participate in the obfuscation, and further our disconnect from meaningfulness, then all is lost." MobyLives 04/29/02

BOOK SALES UP IN UK: Sales of books were up 5 percent in the UK in 2001, with British consumers spening £2.15 billion on books. "Strongest growth in the retail sector came from book and stationery shops, large chain bookshops, bargain bookshops and supermarkets. Independent and specialist bookshops fared worse, with purchases falling for two consecutive years. Book clubs did not perform well and purchasing on the Internet was flat—4% by units and 5% by pounds." Publishers Weekly 04/26/02

  • CUTS AT READER'S DIGEST: Reader's Digest, which has been struggling for some time, is cutting 100 jobs and scaling back its promotions in an effort to stabilize its declining business. Publishers Weekly 04/26/02

USED (OR ABUSED)? So Amazon is prominently selling used books, and the Authors Guild is hopping mad. "Do sales of used books hurt sales of new books? Neither side has statistical evidence to support their case, and many commentators, including some authors, agreed with Bezos' claim that buying used leaves customers with money to buy more books and this could only be good. Judging by the silence of publishers, it seems they, too, agree with Bezos. But to take the consideration too far into abstraction is to miss the obvious — if you've got two copies of a book listed side–by–side and they are virtually identical except one is way cheaper, which one is going to sell?" MobyLives 04/21/02

Sunday April 28

BOOKER BOOST: The Booker Prize is already one of the world's most prestigious. Now it's also becoming one of the most lucrative. "This autumn's winner will take home £50,000, dwarfing the £20,000 prize money given last year to Peter Carey's novel True History of the Kelly Gang. All six shortlisted writers will also get £2,500 compared with £1,000 in 2001." The Guardian (UK) 04/26/02

BOOK CLUBS AS DO-GOODYISM: "I'm deeply bored by the U.S. citywide reading projects, and by the CBC's Canada Reads book club, which was just another exercise in good-for-you-ism. If it were really about literary values it wouldn't have involved actors and singers (who admitted they hadn't read, you know, every single word . . .). I don't think these things encourage a love of literature; they encourage patriotism. They may even discourage the disaffected -- and I'm thinking of myself at about 20 here -- who already see novels as some kind of community-service niceness club, and will find that view confirmed by the kinds of inoffensive books chosen by national committees, and who may never read again." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/27/02

ALL THAT'S NEEDED IS COMPETITION: When Canadians order books from Amazon - even if it's a book by a Canadian publisher - the company would send out the American edition. Canadian publishers lose $40 million a year to this. But now there's a Canadian version of Amazon, and some new competition in the Canadian book market. Did I just feel the earth mover? National Post 04/27/02

MUSEUM OF VERSE: It's hard to believe no one's thought of this before, but why shouldn't there be a museum of poetry? Seventy-nine-year-old Bay Area poet Herman Berlandt is on a campaign to establish just such a place... San Francisco Chronicle 04/27/02

Friday April 26

RECREATING ALEXANDRIA: Big celebrations were planned for the opening of Egypt's historic new Alexandria library. "But those celebratory plans were scuttled because of the heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Instead, Bibliotheca Alexandrina - which ostensibly replaces the original that was destroyed more than a thousand years ago - opened quietly to the public this week." Wired 04/25/02 

UNIVERSITY PRESSES ENDANGERED: University presses are under pressure all over America. And the largest of them - the University of California - is cutting back. "As part of a general retrenchment, the UC Press will no longer produce books on philosophy, architecture, archaeology, political science or geography. It will publish dramatically less literature and far fewer works of literary theory. Twelve jobs have been eliminated through attrition, and further job cuts are planned." San Jose Mercury News (LAT) 04/26/02

NOW EVERYBODY'S GOTTA HAVE A BOOK CLUB: Even Regis' sidekick Kelly Ripa. Ripa announced she's starting a book club - "Read with Ripa" and "as soon as Ripa announced the book yesterday, If Looks Could Kill moved from number 7,000 to number 7 on Amazon.com - and publisher Warner Books has ordered an additional 25,000 copies." New York Post 04/26/02

Thursday April 25

E-BOOK AWARDS DISCONTINUED: The Frankfurt E-book Awards have been discontinued, to almost no one's surprise. "While lack of funding killed the awards, the show had a problem that money couldn't resolve: It was an award show created for a new technological form, yet judged on literary merit. That created confusion, especially because, as critics pointed out, many of the judges were unfamiliar with the new technology." Wired 04/23/03

AMAZON IS PROFITABLE: Amazon.com reported growth of sales of 21 percent over the same period last year, and reported a $2 million profit, compared to a $21 million loss last year. "U.S. books, music and DVD/video sales grew 8% to $443 million." Publishers Weekly 04/24/02

  • DELIVERY IN THE REAL WORLD: Amazon announces it will give customers the option to "pick up purchased books, CDs and movies at Borders bookstores. Amazon already runs the Borders.com Web site." Publishers Weekly 04/24/02

Tuesday April 23

MOM AND POP PUBLISHERS LAND MEGABOOK: The sequel to The Bridges of Madison County is being released this week. The book is a hot property, a followup to "the best-selling hardcover novel of all time." But when Robert James Waller's editors at Warner Books turned down the book, he went to his hometown bookstore in search of a publisher. "This is the story of how the proprietors of a mom-and-pop bookstore in rural Texas landed the North American rights to the sequel of the best-selling hardcover novel of all time." Baltimore Sun 04/23/02

BOOK WINNER REVEALED IN ADVANCE BY WAREHOUSE JOE: Canada's CBC Radio is choosing a book for the entire country to read together. It's to be announced today, after a weeklong series "featuring five prominent Canadians who had each picked works of Canadian literature they thought the country should read. The panel then voted the books off the list one by one during discussions." So which book wins? Turns out the winner has been revealed in advance by a book warehouse worker hired to slap CBC stickers on the book. National Post (Canada) 04/23/02

NORA WHO? "Nora Roberts is one of the best-kept secrets in American book publishing, the (petite, red-haired) elephant in the middle of the room. She sold about 14 million mass-market paperbacks last year, more than John Grisham, Tom Clancy or Stephen King. In the past 20 years, she has produced 145 novels and had 69 New York Times best sellers." Chicago Tribune 04/23/02

Monday April 22

SCOTLAND'S CONTROVERSIAL LIBRARY EXTENSION: A major expansion of Scotland's National Library has been approved by the government. But "objections to the extension plans had been raised by the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland and the Cockburn Association, which claimed the design and materials to be used were 'uninspiring'." The Scotsman 04/19/02

TOO VIOLENT TO READ: Egypt's ambitious new Alexandria Library is "11 stories high and can hold up to eight million books. The total cost of the library was $220 million and it has taken 11 years to complete." Problem is, though it is finished, it hasn't yet opened, and its inauguration has been postponed because of violence and security concerns. Middle East Times 04/19/02

Sunday April 21

SUBJECT TO REVIEW: What makes an author great, or a novel a classic? Although we may not want to admit it, literary greatness is just as subjective as the success of whichever bubble gum pop act is making teenage girls shriek on MTV this week. "Literature, which some may like to conceive of as an immutable set of timeless verities, solid as granite and fixed as the stars, instead is every bit as fragile as any other human creation." Chicago Tribune 04/21/02

  • YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN: "Every lifetime reader has sweet memories of books read in adolescence that were totally captivating, that changed his or her outlook on life, that opened new worlds. The question is: do we dare revisit these books 20 or 30 years later? It can be like seeing your first love after all these years, and now she has a sullen look and you realize it was always there and how could you have missed it?" Toronto Star 04/20/02

Thursday April 18

ART OF PACKAGING LITERATURE: "Building an author's career, particularly a writer of literary fiction, is a brick-upon-brick process, and tending to that structure is what the business is about." So "why are first literary novels — the hardest sell in book publishing — afforded the more expensive hardcover start? Because so many book reviewers are snobbish about things literary and get nervous about reviewing even trade paperbacks, a format they tend not to take seriously. (Forget mass-market paperback entirely when it comes to reviewing.)" The New York Times 04/18/02

Wednesday April 17

WHAT SHOULD LIBRARIES BE IN THE DIGITAL AGE? With so much information flowing through the internet, what should the role of libraries which are the traditional repositories of information, be? "Digital technology has split the confluence of medium and content hitherto known as the book. While information's infrastructure is public domain, information itself is a private commodity. Intermediaries such as booksellers and librarians have now become superfluous in certain areas of the information market. This is especially true in the realm of scientific, medical and technical literature, which by trying to combine two incompatible functions is both expensive and inefficient." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 04/16/02

FAILING TO DE-LINK AMAZON: Publishers and authors are generally not heeding the Authors Guild call to take links to Amazon.com off their websites to protest Amazon's sales of used books. Why? "Using an average book that sells 30,000 copies a year, Amazon sales account for 7 to 8 percent, or 2,100 copies. Used books account for approximately 15 percent of that number - that's 315 books a year. Those used copies, however, will be read and create a broader readership through word of mouth. In fact, several authors and smaller publishers said they are happy to lose a little business in exchange for the cheap and direct way Amazon offers to cultivate a readership." Wired 04/16/02

STUDENTS DON'T READ CANADIAN: Canada's writers may be winning all sorts of awards, but Canadian students aren't reading the home-grown books. A new study says that the average Canadian student reads five Canadian books by the time of graduation. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/17/02

Tuesday April 16

REALITY PROGRAMMING, CANADIAN STYLE: Celebrities go on CBC radio to try to convince people that the book they are talking about should be the book the entire country reads. At the end of each round, people vote one book "off the island." An interesting way to pick a book for the entire country to read? "What I have trouble with, first of all, is the underlying notion that the only way listeners will participate in Canada Reads is if famous personalities - well, at least 'world-famous coast to coast' - tell us what to read. It isn't possible to find a single novel that captures the imagination of an entire country." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/16/02

  • COMMON BOOK, COMMON DREAMS? "The problem we wrestled with for some time was if you want to get the country to read one book, how do you choose? We did not want it to be a CBC decision. We decided to seek the opinions of Canadians who had some reputation of their own and whom we knew were assiduous readers. Most of the people we approached agreed to do it." Toronto Star 04/16/02

DEFENDING THE RIGHT TO BE USED: Last week the American Authors Guild organized a protest against Amazon because the company is selling used books alongside new volumes. Amazon head Jeff Bezos has answered the Guild's call for an authors' boycott of Amazon links "by e-mailing both individuals and stores around the country who had sold used books through Amazon.com. He asked them to defend Amazon's contention that used books actually help authors by bringing in new readers who otherwise couldn't afford to buy a book. "We've found that our used books business does not take business away from the sale of new books. In fact, the opposite has happened." Nando Times (AP) 04/15/02

FORMULA ONE WRITING: Harlequin, the schlocky bodice-ripper publisher, is trying to go up-market. "Inspired by the success of 'chick lit' - stories of fallible, single professional women in the mould of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary - the company is launching a new line of books designed to depict women's real lives." Sydney Morning Herald (AP) 04/16/02

Monday April 15

KINGS OF U.S. FICTION: Which author sold the most books in the US last year? Good try if you answered John  Grisham; he led the list the previous seven years. No, the "top-selling work of hardback fiction in the US last year was written by the Reverend Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Desecration, the ninth volume in the series Left Behind, sold 2,969,458 copies, nearly a million ahead of Grisham. If the literati of New York look down on Grisham, the other two are too low even to register on their radar screens. The Age (Melbourne) 04/15/02

WHO MAKES BOOKS EXPENSIVE? Why do book prices get higher with every passing year? Is it the publishers' fault, as Barnes & Noble chairman Leonard Riggio has been saying to all and any who will listen? Nonsense, say the publishers. Just look who gets the biggest percentage of every sale... MobyLives 04/15/02

BUCKS FOR STAR WRITERS: Is it fair that big movie stars can earn tens of millions of dollars out of a film's budget? Must be, or the studios wouldn't do it. Now the same thing is happening to books, where enormous advances are being gambled on authors. "Increasingly, the big publishers are becoming like financing and distributing houses. They're like the major film studios in Hollywood. It's like opening a film at 300 theatres if Tom Cruise is starring in it. Everybody evaluates risk differently, but they're betting on a pretty sure thing." National Post 04/11/02

Thursday April 11

McEWAN WINS SMITH: Ian McEwan's book Atonement wins Britain's WH Smith literary prize. "The award is the first for a work regarded as a near-masterpiece by many critics. Though one of the literary best sellers of the year, it did not win the biggest cash prizes, the Whitbread and the Booker." The Guardian (UK) 04/10/02

OUT OF BOOKS/OUT OF IDEAS: So Oprah's run out of books that meet the test of quality for her book club. "There seems something churlish and—dare I say it?—elitist about this majestic dismissal. True, trendy academics have been issuing gnomic declarations about the death of the novel for the last 30 years or so. But Oprah? How could she and her staff have exhausted the range of existing share-worthy fiction (including backlists!) in a mere five years? One answer, of course, is that Oprah was selecting a very special kind of fiction." Slate 04/10/02

Wednesday April 10

THE RIGHT TO A PRIVATE READ: The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that a Denver bookstore (the Tattered Cover) owner does not have to provide police with a list of people who bought a book  on how to make illegal drugs. "The high court declared that the First Amendment and the Colorado Constitution protect an individual's fundamental right to purchase books anonymously, free from governmental interference." Wired 04/09/02

PRIVACY TEST: "Calling the court's opinion 'a primer on the First Amendment,' Tattered Cover's lawyer, Daniel Recht of Recht & Kornfeld, said that the ruling has 'huge national significance' because this is the first of the 50 state supreme courts to address the issue." Publishers Weekly 04/09/02

FLEETING FAME: "The curious thing about bestsellers: their popularity is often shorter than the span of their readers' lives. As Germaine Greer rather sourly remarks of Lolita: 'Bestsellers are never bestsellers for the right reasons.' In the end, though, it's the ephemerality of the bestseller that's so fascinating. They are such fragile flowers: the merest waft from a passing new trend consigns them to outer darkness." The Telegraph (UK) 04/10/02 

OPEN LETTER TO OPRAH: "Naturally, I have heard a variety of cynical theories about the real reason you're downsizing your book club: Ratings for the book-themed shows are abysmally low. Many authors - after months of isolation in dark garrets, scribbling away - don't make scintillating guests. Or maybe you're just sick and tired of the whole literature thing. If that was it, I wish you'd simply leveled with us. Had you said, 'Look, folks, I'm sick of reading novels all the time. I want a life. I want to veg out and watch TV and paint my toenails, OK? Give me a break. I'm not in high school anymore and there isn't a crabby old English teacher breathing down my neck for me to finish `Silas Marner,' OK?' I could've respected that." Chicago Tribune 04/10/02

  • NARROW SCOPE: Are there too few good books for Oprah to choose from? "She tends to pick novels that appeal to a broad group of people," he said. Her power tends to make publishers want to buy the kind of work of which she'll approve - which in turn makes contemporary fiction all run together, sounding alike, causing her to find few new novels that excite her. By picking books that way, she may be contributing to the problem she's complaining about." Chicago Tribune 04/10/02
  • WHOM OPRAH HELPED: The publishing industry has been crying about the news that Oprah's Book Club is winding down. So "which publishers and authors benefited most from Oprah over the course of her club, and which of her selections saw a relatively small jump?" Publishers Week 04/09/02

DE-LINKING AMAZON: Thousands of websites link to Amazon.com promoting sales of books they care about. Now, to protest Amazon selling used books alongside new ones, the Authors Guild is urging webmasters to take down their Amazon links. "We believe it is in our members' best interests to de-link their websites from Amazon. There's no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales. It just takes a minute, and it's the right thing to do." Wired 04/09/02

Tuesday April 9

THE FIX WAS IN? Alt-paper Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon is getting more flak for its fiction contest, in which the entry chosen by the three judges was overturned by the paper's arts editor. Was it racism, as some critics are charging, or was it just a "plain old–fashioned, unethical fix?" MobyLives 04/09/02

  • Previously: RUSH TO JUDGMENT: Portland alternative weekly Willamette Week announced a writing contest, engaged some judges, then chose a winner different from who the judges picked. Now the judges are complaining, and WW arts editor (who actually chose the winner herself) explains: "I planned to use their feedback to aid me in making a final decision - and to run as comments alongside the winners when they ran in the paper. In retrospect, perhaps even calling them judges was inappropriate. Maybe Subcommittee for the Advancement of Literary License or Footsoldiers in the War Against Cliché would have been more correct..." Willamette Week 03/18/02

WHEN CRITICS COLLIDE: Critics disagree all the time, of course. But rarely has opinion diverged so completely over Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish. According to the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani, this is "an enthralling story", a "remarkable" and "astonishing" book, "a wondrous, phantasmagorical meditation on art and history and nature". Peter Craven's review in The Age, on the other hand called it "a monstrosity of a book. I cannot believe that a novel like this has been put before the public with such a mishmash of verbal collisions, such lapses of judgment and such evasions of pace". At least they have opinions? The Age (Melbourne) 04/09/02

TODAY'S NEW BOOK CLUB: Just as Oprah cuts down her popular book club, NBC's Today Show says it will start its own book club. "It would be silly for us to say, ‘Oh we just had this idea today.' But the truth is that it's something we've been working on for a long time, so with Oprah stepping back from the book world, it just seemed natural for us to seize the opportunity." The show has always featured books. "The truth is we introduced America to John Grisham." New York Post 04/09/02

  • WHY OPRAH QUIT: It's not because it's too hard to find a good book to feature. She was rankled by criticism of her choices. And besides: " 'It was a very arduous and careful screening process, and was taking a serious toll on Oprah and her staff. It was the single hardest thing the TV show had to do.' That's right - finding, reading and recommending one good novel or collection of stories a month. Can you imagine if she'd had to wade through histories and biographies?" Philadelphia Inquirer 04/09/02

LITERARY PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Writer Jim Munroe has a new book. In it, he mentions a number of corporations. So he decided to bill the companies he names $10 each for "product placement," just as they do in the movies. So far no takers. "A lot of people think it was this big promotional thing, and it obviously brings attention to the book and the issues in the book, but for me, it was a pretty natural thing. When I was going through the manuscript, to edit and revise it and stuff, I was like 'Man, I wish I didn't have to mention all these corporations.' It sort of bugged me that I was mentioning them ... But the whole point of the book is to draw attention to the fact that we're totally corporatized, but at the same time I'm also mentioning all these corporations." Ottawa Citizen 04/07/02

Monday April 8

ALL THAT MONEY: "Last week, after reading just a one-page proposal from Charles Frazier, Random House bought the National Book Award winner’s next novel for what sources close to the deal said was $8.25 million. The publishing community was hardly through gasping—no one could recall a piece of literary fiction selling for so much—when producer Scott Rudin, who’s known for buying high-toned literature (Angela’s Ashes, The Corrections), got his hands on the proposal. Rudin pitched Frazier a John Ford-style drama to be directed by Peter Weir. Before anyone else had a chance to bid, he snapped up the movie rights for more than $3 million. Then the second-guessing started." Newsweek 04/15/02

ODE TO THE QUEEN MUM: Andrew Motion has written the biggest charge of his career as England's Poet Laureate - a poem commemorating the death of the Queen Mother. "He delivered his words to the Queen and Prince Charles on Friday but was in his London office until the last moment, agonising over 'the proper combination of left- and right-hand brains'." Sydney Morning Herald 04/08/02

THE ERRONEOUS OPRAH REPORT: Several publications reported Friday and over the weekend that Oprah was discontinuing her popular Book Club [including USAToday, which also printed a list of all the books Oprah has selected]. But in fact, she's just cutting back the number of books the club will tackle [see next item] USA Today 04/08/02

  • Previously: OPRAH CUTS BACK: For six years Oprah's Book Club has been a publishing world phenomenon. Last year the club was said to be responsible for sales of 12 million books. Now Oprah says she'll cut back the number of books the club will read on her popular talk show. "It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share. I will continue featuring books on the Oprah Winfrey Show when I feel they merit my heartfelt recommendation." Chicago Tribune 04/07/02
  • OF HIGH ART AND POPULAR READING: Being an author in Oprah Winfrey's book club carried many rewards, but also came at a price for serious authors, just as Book-of-the-Month Club authors of a previous generation found. Jonathan Franzen's dissing of Oprah last fall curiously cast the author in the chump role as he was raising reasonable concerns. Boston Review 04/02

Sunday April 7

OPRAH CUTS BACK: For six years Oprah's Book Club has been a publishing world phenomenon. Last year the club was said to be responsible for sales of 12 million books. Now Oprah says she'll cut back the number of books the club will read on her popular talk show. "It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share. I will continue featuring books on the Oprah Winfrey Show when I feel they merit my heartfelt recommendation." Chicago Tribune 04/07/02

SALES R US: So you've got a publisher and a new book coming out. But your job as an author is only half over. Now you've got to go out and sell it. Today that's a full time job. Hartford Courant 04/07/02

Friday April 5

CENSORSHIP LAW LIKELY TO BE THROWN OUT: If the judges' comments are any indication, the Children's Internet Protection Act will likely be thrown out. The law says libraries must use filtering software on their computers to prevent children from seeing pornographic websites. But every witness testifying in the challenge to the law has said the filtering programs don't work and that they block sites that aren't pornogaphic. Wired 04/05/02

TAKE AWAY PULITZERS? Philip Nobile says the Pulitzer board has a plagiarism problem. He says in a speech at Columbia University today that the Pulitzers of Doris Goodwin, David McCullough, and Alex Haley should be revoked because of the plagiarism found in their work, and that if action isn't taken, the integrity of the awards is at stake. This, as the Pulitzer Board assembles at Columbia for a meeting. MobyLives 04/05/02

POWER TO EDIT: So what, then, is the value of an editor? The answer depends on the writer, and even the genre. For all writers, the editor is the author's champion within the publishing house, the person who fights the book-jacket battle, who seduces the marketing and public relations people, who sells the writer's work to the sales representatives so that, armed with the editor's ebullience, they can in turn sell the book to the stores. (The truly successful editors are also rainmakers, attracting authors who want to work with them.) Generally, nonfiction writers seek more hands-on editing than literary novelists or huge best-selling commercial novelists, whose success convinces them that they don't need much help." The New York Times 04/05/02

AUTHOR OF PROBABILITY: A group of researchers has been applying "statistical physics and computer analysis" to ancient texts in an effort to determine who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. "Most historians attribute the classic Greek works to the poet Homer. According to the recent study, though, Homer — if such a writer existed — likely scripted the Iliad solo. But he probably had plenty of help from other poets when creating the Odyssey" Discovery 04/04/02

Thursday April 4

RELUCTANT GATEKEEPERS: Should American librarians be forced to monitor and censor websites that could be accessed from library computers, as a new law says? Librarians say no. "The ACLU and the American Library Association claim that blocking software is problematic for a number of reasons: It doesn't do a good job of preventing access to porn, it bans many legitimate websites, and the list of verboten sites is compiled in secret by commercial vendors." Wired 04/03/02

ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE RETOOLS: The 90-year-old magazine Architecture is retooling and its editor-in-chief is quitting. The magazine "will turn its focus from pure design to products and services, which is sure to cast it as more of a trade magazine." The magazine's owners say that if the makeover doesn't improve revenues, Architecture could be closed. Design critics bemoan the move: "There will be a huge huge gap in the information available to us now." The New York Times 04/04/02

CANADIAN INDIE TURNS 25: It was a quarter-century ago when Canada's NeWest publishing house set up shop, using hand-cranked presses and children's stencils alongside more sophisticated equipment, in an effort to change the face of Canadian publishing and prove that there was a place for regional independents in the corporate-dominated world of books. "Ever since, NeWest Press has been promoting the entire spectrum of Western Canadian writing to the rest of the country, with 205 titles that span fiction, drama, poetry, literary criticism, political comment and aboriginal writing." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 04/04/02

POET LAUREATE SWEEPS: Only a few months ago, California sent up an SOS, looking for more candidates to apply for the state's new position of poet laureate. Evidently, the call was heeded - 55 poets were considered, and three have been chosen as finalists for the job. "Gov. Gray Davis is expected to name one of the three by July, subject to confirmation by the state Senate." San Diego Union Tribune 04/03/02

  • Previously: WON'T YOU BE MY POET... "California's newly established poet laureate program has run into a problem. Not enough poets - just seven - have thrown their hats into the ring as nominees for the two-year office that was established last year to promote poetry in the state. 'I wouldn't say we're in a panic,' said Adam Gottlieb, spokesman for the California Arts Council, 'but we're close'." Sacramento Bee 02/06/02

Wednesday April 3

POETIC PROBLEMS: "Since its inauguration in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month has reorganized the way that commercial publishers and the larger independents publish poetry, drawn unprecedented media attention to the art, and has, by some lights, boosted poetry sales. Yet this year's festivities come on the heels of what has been a difficult year for many in the poetry world." Publishers Weekly 04/01/02

PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE SEEN IT COMING: A new book slated to be released by a small university press is generating more heat than any scholarly work since The Bell Curve, and the publisher is shocked by the venom of the detractors. Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex, which argues that teens are harmed more by a lack of credible information on sex than by the threat of molestation and pedophilia, has pushed nearly every conservative button, and activists are trying to stifle the book's impact by bullying the publisher into calling off the release. Minneapolis Star Tribune 04/03/02

Tuesday April 2

PEN/FAULKNER WINNER: Ann Patchett wins the PEN/Faulkner Award, America's richest literary prize for her novel Bel Canto. "She beat National Book Award winner Jonathan Franzen's novel The Corrections, Karen Joy Fowler's Sister Noon, Claire Messud's The Hunters, and Manil Suri's The Death of Vishnu. Past winners have included John Edgar Wideman, EL Doctorow and Don DeLillo - last year Philip Roth won with his novel The Human Stain." BBC 04/02/02

GOING INDIE: A new study by Consumer Reports says that book-buyers are more satisfied shopping in independent bookstores than in big chain stores. The study "found that most people felt the chains or the equally giant on–line booksellers did indeed offer a better deal price–wise. Nonetheless, independent bookstores generated a higher level of customer satisfaction than even the cheapest chain retailer. In fact, independents scored 'on a par with the highest–rated stores from any survey we've done in recent years,' said the magazine." MobyLives 04/02/03

DOUBLE DUTY POETRY: Maybe one of the reasons poetry doesn't penetrate the general conciousness is the way it's packaged. If Emily Dickinson wrote a cookbook, for example... Salon 04/01/02

CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE: Michael Moore's Stupid White Men is at the top of the New York Times Best-seller list. This is the book that publisher HarperCollins asked Moore to rewrite after September 11 because of its criticisms of George W. Bush. Moore refused, and a campaign by librarians shamed HC into going ahead with the book as written. So why would a publisher fight so hard to avoid publishing a book it had already signed off on? Miami Herald 04/02/02

Monday April 1

CONSPIRACY THEORY: A new French book claims that the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center is a hoax, that "the plane that smashed into the Pentagon did not exist and that the world has been duped by a murky U.S. government plot." Okay, kooks publish books all the time. But this one's got French readers intrigued - Thierry Meyssan's book, The Frightening Fraud, is "a popular read, according to booksellers, and has topped bestseller lists." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 04/01/02

RUSH TO JUDGMENT: Portland alternative weekly Willamette Week announced a writing contest, engaged some judges, then chose a winner different from who the judges picked. Now the judges are complaining, and WW arts editor (who actually chose the winner herself) explains: "I planned to use their feedback to aid me in making a final decision - and to run as comments alongside the winners when they ran in the paper. In retrospect, perhaps even calling them judges was inappropriate. Maybe Subcommittee for the Advancement of Literary License or Footsoldiers in the War Against Cliché would have been more correct..." Willamette Week 03/18/02

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