SPOIL LITERARY FANTASY?The success of fantasy novels
like Harry Potter has attracted waves of new writers ready
to supply fantasy product. But is success killing the magic?
"Commodified fantasy takes no risks: it invents nothing,
but imitates and trivializes. It proceeds by depriving the old
stories of their intellectual and ethical complexity, turning
their action to violence, their actors to dolls, and their truth-telling
to sentimental platitude." Slate
YOU GET ROYALTIES FROM A DICTATOR? Canadian artist Jonathon
Bowser was shocked to learn that one of his paintings was used
for the cover of a romantic allegory written by Saddam Hussein.
In it, Hussein "portrays himself as a benevolent king bestowing
love on his people." Says Bowser: "Where are my royalties,
that's what I want to know. A romantic allegory isn't necessarily
bad, I just would have chosen a different author."
National Post (Canada) 05/30/01
SANCTUARY: Nigeria has offered itself up as a sanctuary for
writers in trouble. "To date, it has offered asylum to 32
international authors, filmmakers, composers and journalists."
TO COLLABORATE WITH MARK TWAIN? Like most writers, Mark Twain
left unpublished work. One piece is a story intended as a collaborative
experiment with other writers. It went nowhere. Now the Buffalo
and Erie County Public Library, which owns rights to the story,
has renewed the experiment,
with cash prizes for those who come up with the best ending to
Twain's story. CBC 05/29/01
HOLDING STEADY: Compared to newspaper and magazine publishing,
the book-selling business seems to be weathering the economic
downturn in pretty good shape. In the first quarter of this year
"bookstore sales at Barnes & Noble increased 4.3%, to $807.9
million. At Books-a-Million, total revenues rose 4.7%, to $97.5
million, but comparable-store sales were down 6.8% in the quarter,
largely due to the strong performance of Pokémon products
last year." Publishers Weekly
BOOK CLUBS KILL FICTION? Blame the boring uniformity of today's
fiction on the Book Club Phenomenon. So many "literary"
books tend to look so alike because publishers are thinking about
whether book clubs will buy them. The
Independent (UK) 05/28/01
ASSASSINATION: French heirs of writer Victor Hugo are furious
over a new sequel to Les Miserables, Hugo's best-known
work. They're going to court to block publication. "We do not
consider this a sequel, but a rewriting. It's not a sequel when
you resurrect characters. Just because the book is in the public
domain, it doesn't mean you can do what you like with it."
The New York Times 05/29/01
(one-time registration required for access)
HITS THE PRESSES:
Armed with an appeals court's permission to publish, Houghton
Mifflin is anticipating an initial print run of 25,000 for The
Wind Done Gone. But the parody's legal troubles may not be
over just yet. Inside.com 05/25/01
THEY'RE READING IN AUSTRALIA: In book sales for the past year,
it's just like everywhere else - Harry Potter. JK Rowling's Harry
sagas took the top four places on the bestseller list.
The Age (Melbourne) 05/28/01
IN THE WIND: A federal appeals court has cleared the
way for publication of The Wind Done Gone, a novel that
parodies, and borrows liberally from, Margaret Mitchell's Gone
With the Wind. The ruling reverses a lower court decision
blocking publication. Nando Times
E-FUTURE: Is there an audience for e-books? "Subscription,
pay-per-view, ad-supported - online publishing will only succeed
when there are many business models, and publishers and users
can choose the appropriate model for their needs."
Publishers Weekly 05/21/01
AMIS AND DISSING THE NOVEL: Judges for the Samuel Johnson
non-fiction award pushed Martin Amis off their short list in favor
of a book about trilobites. Then they claimed that there was "huge
public appetite and excitement for non-fiction at the moment which
is not matched by that for the novel." The
Guardian (UK) 05/24/01
HE'LL MOVE THE SCROLL TO BALTIMORE: Jack Kerouac's original
manuscript for On the Road was sold at auction for $2.43
million yesterday, more than $1 million over the expected sale
price. The manuscript is written on one continuous roll of paper.
Oh, and the winning bidder? That would be Jim Irsay, best known
as the owner of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. MSNBC
SATIRE DONE GONE? With the US District Court decision blocking
publication of The Wind Done Gone, many professional satirists
are wondering just what precedent has been set. The Court had
previously allowed purveyors of parody a wide berth when it came
to lifting material, but the new ruling could change everything.
Hartford Courant 05/23/01
PROVE IT: A site that has been tracking sales of e-published
books begins to doubt the accuracy of numbers supplied by publishers.
Some refuse verification of royalty payments, so now some of the
formerly-best-sellers have been removed from the list.
ON THE WALL? The legendary Writer's Voice program at New York's
West Side YMCA, "an unusually fertile training ground for
writers," has announced it was canceling its summer programs.
But a recent troubled history of management and rumor has many
wondering if the program will ever resume. They worry that a "20-year-old
community institution whose students and professors have included
the likes of Pulitzer winner Michael Cunningham, Walter Mosley,
and Sue Miller" will be lost forever. Village
CHANGING 'WIND': "This Friday, the 11th Circuit
Court of Appeals in Atlanta will rule on whether or not Judge
Charles Pannell was right to ban publication of first-time novelist
Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone, "a parody ... from the slaves'
point of view" (the description is Randall's) of Margaret Mitchell's
1936 novel, Gone With the Wind, that had been scheduled for publication
in June." National Post (Canada)
NEXT CHAPTER: Troubled Canadian book superstore Chapters is
downsizing to try to solve its money woes. But "why should
Chapters have its wings clipped? Just because it expanded far
too rapidly? Just because it targeted and drove independent bookstores
out of business? Just because it strong-armed and bullied publishers?
Just because it returned books by the truckload? Just because
it delayed payment of its bills until publishers and authors alike
teetered on the edge of bankruptcy? Just because its doomed course
- iceberg? what iceberg? - might well have dragged a sizable chunk
of Canadian publishing down to the bottom with it?"
The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/21/01
THE ROAD JACK: The manuscript of Jack Kerouac's On the
Road is to be auctioned off this week, and scholars are unhappy.
"The item is unique among works of 20th-century literature
because, rather than a stack of typed pages, the manuscript is
a continuous 37-metre scroll of heavy tracing paper. 'The scroll
is the most important document in the entire Kerouac archives,
and it shouldn't be separated from the rest of the archives'."
The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/21/01
IF YOU PAY... There are lots of problems with the magazine
Foreword's announcement it will review books for authors
at a cost of $295. "It's obvious that ForeWord won't
get much business from the publishers it claims it means to serve.
See, ForeWord reviews will be worthless unless they seem
objective, and so they're going to have to be negative on occasion.
Do you think publishers are going to pay for bad reviews? Big
publishers don't need to, and small publisher don't have the money
to waste." Mobylives 05/21/01
SOURCES: Critics seem to be wrong just about as often as they're
right. From the archives of publisher Alfred A. Knopf, the reviews
of readers considering what books to publish, show serious lapses
in judgment. The Observer (UK) 05/20/01
= iHIGHWAY ROBBERY? The Writers' Guild is warning its members
to stay away from iPublish, the digital imprint of TimeWarner
Books. The Guild claims that iPublish's standard contract forces
authors to give up too many rights. Wired
VERSE: Tomaz Salamun is one of Eastern Europe's most celebrated
poets, yet he views himself as a "monster." His bleak,
sometimes violent poems reflect the harsh landscape of the wartorn
region he hails from, and he seems to consider his art as much
a weapon as a mode of expression. "Poetry makes a human being
more human, but it can also dehumanize, like a big passion, a
horrible obsession driven by laws that are beyond the human."
San Jose Mercury News (AP) 05/18/01
II - GAVROCHE STRIKES BACK: "Descendants of Victor Hugo,
outraged by a contemporary sequel to his 1862 novel "Les Miserables,"
urged France and the European Parliament on Tuesday to condemn
the commercial misuse of literary classics... 'Does anyone think
someone could commission a Tenth Beethoven Symphony?' they asked
in an open letter." Chicago Tribune
FOR BOOKS: It's been a miserable few years for the Canadian
book industry. "The situation, in which the industry has
been hit by much heavier than usual returns - as staggeringly
high as 60% in some cases - has undergone a bewildering sense
of disorientation, and has experienced an agonizing feeling of
betrayal, and can only get better." Publishers
OF LIFE: How truthful should biographies attempt to be? "It
is striking that while biography itself goes in and out of fashion
with critics and publishers (not long ago, it was being asserted
in publishing circles that the bottom had dropped out of the biography
market: popular history was all the rage), the debate over the
rules or ethics of writing life stories never dies away."
New Statesman 05/14/01
OF THE AGES: Do writers get better with age? "The older
an author gets, the easier it is for them to leave behind the
preoccupations of their youth, to invent freely and explore with
ambition. Thus the long-distance author shape-shifts in mid-career."
The Guardian (UK) 05/16/01
PRICE FOR CELINE MANUSCRIPT: The French National Library,
exercising a right to match private bids, paid 11 million French
francs ($1.5 million) for the hand-written first draft copy of
Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night.
It is believed to be a record for a manscript auction.
Chicago Sun-Times (AP) 05/16/01
DRAT! WE GOTTA
REPRINT ALL THOSE HISTORY BOOKS: There are data to suggest
that Columbus actually reached the New World in 1485, on a mission
from the Vatican. What about that 1492 thing? Just a return voyage,
say the believers. "The story of the discovery of America
is filled with misinformation. Simply, it is a great marketing
operation by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain."
TIME'S A CHARM: First-time Canadian author Alistair McLeod
wins the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award - literature's richest prize
at $172,000 CDN. CBC 05/14/01
DROPOUTS: An alarming number of Americans is choosing not
to read, says a new study. "We pride ourselves on being a
largely literate First World country while at the same time we
rush to build a visually powerful environment in which reading
is not required. The results are inevitable. Aliteracy is all
around. Washington Post 05/14/01
OF THE PARTY: Academics have generally distrusted writers
of biographies. "Although biographers do pretty much the
same thing as academics - they go to libraries, find stuff out,
and then publish books about it - the two camps have always kept
themselves stiffly to themselves, held apart by a barely disguised
tangle of envy, suspicion and defensive superiority." Those
attitudes may be thawing. New Statesman
MATTER: A little book on writing, written in the 1950s, reminds
that "the right words arranged in the right order can be
weapons, that culture and education are political and that good,
radical ideas have a curious ability to elude the spin doctors."
The Observer (UK) 05/13/01
FAN LIBRARIAN: With the internet, a new kind of "librarian"
emerges. Fans of authors collect up everything available on their
heroes. "Each is part fan, part archivist, part technician,
using the resources of the Web to pay tribute to an author he
or she loves. It's a unique joining of the old fashioned with
the up to the minute: for with these sites, as with creation itself,
in the beginning was the word."
Boston Globe 05/14/01
TRULY HOOPY FROOD PASSES ON: Douglas Adams, author of the
sci-fi cult classic book trilogy "The Hitchhiker's Guide
to the Galaxy" has died of a heart attack at age 49. There
is no word on who inherits his towel. Nando
Times (AP) 05/12/01
A FRIEND REMEMBERS HIM: "To his friends Douglas Adams
will be remembered as a giant of a man with a kindness to match.
But to his fans I think he will be seen as someone who brought
wit into science fiction. With the greatest respect to Gene
Roddenberry and others, that had not been done before."
The Observer (London) 05/13/01
HANG ON TO THEM: Amazon claims 32 million customers. But is
it true? An analyst says the company is losing customers fast.
"Amazon lost 2.3 million customers in the quarter ended March
31, while adding 3 million first-time shoppers." Bookwire
GAME: A work of art scarcely exists without a name, a title,
something to call it that will place it where it's supposed to
be. So what happens when nothing comes to mind? Poets
& Writers 05/01
AUTHOR: "Don DeLillo is, in every way, what undergraduate
literature courses dub a Major Author. Yet he is also an essentially
invisible author, largely unread by and unknown to not simply
the vast majority of Americans, but the vast majority of well-educated
Americans, most of whom have never read one of his books and could
not name even one of his many memorable characters. His situation
thus represents something of a mystery." Reason
So now a website is offering authors the opportunity to buy reviews.
What's the point, wonders Alex Good. "Whether a book that
does get a paid review will be any better off is doubtful. With
all of the stigma that attaches to self-publishing and e-publishing,
one can imagine an even more negative response to this kind of
reviewing, with its obvious violation of canons of objectivity."
And do reviews make a difference, anyway? GoodReports
FOR THE CENTER: "A society in which literature has been
relegated - like some hidden vice - to the margins of social and
personal life, and transformed into something like a sectarian
cult, is a society condemned to become spiritually barbaric, and
even to jeopardize its freedom. I wish to offer a few arguments
against the idea of literature as a luxury pastime."
The New Republic 05/08/01
REVIEWS: Only about 10 percent of the some 70,000 books published
annually are ever reviewed professionally. So now you can buy
one. "Any publisher or author can buy a review through a
website for $295. Included in the price is the right to print
the review in any marketing or publicity effort, lifetime archival
of the review on-site, and distribution to numerous licensees."
BOOK IS A BOOK OF COURSE OF COURSE: Random House is suing
e-publisher RosettaBooks for publishing electronic versions of
books Random had previously published. The original contracts
assigned "book rights" to Random. So do electrons constitute
a book? Some heavy definitions are in order... Inside.com
LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, LOVE HARRY POTTER: "The children's
book character makes mistakes, but he comes through in the end.
He not only survived an abusive childhood in the home of hateful
relatives, but he came out with hope and an ability to love."
Dallas Morning News 05/09/01
WIND IS MISERABLES? "Call it parody, plagiarism
or sequelization, once-upon-a-time-one-more-time is the idea for
a spate of recent books. Of course, literary borrowing isn't exactly
new - Aeschylus borrowed from Homer; Shakespeare borrowed many
plots." Los Angeles Times 05/07/01
DOWNSIDE OF THE e-SLUSH PILE? Electronic publishing has held
out the promise that authors can more easily get their work out
to an audience. But "there has been a surprising backlash
against writers being able to make their work so readily available.
Many voices have been raised, saying that all this is a bad thing.
A very bad thing." Is it? Complete
RETURN OF SHORT STORIES? Why aren't more short stories published?
Publishers are convinced that short fiction, like poetry, is a
refined form that is, "essentially, too snooty to attract
a large audience, and they're not going to publish any more of
the stuff than is absolutely necessary to give one of their writers
— or themselves — the faintest of literary veneers."
Nonetheless, are there are signs of a possible revival? Mobylives.com
THINGS MATTER: Why are newspapers cutting their books sections?
"Information about books is hard to come by. If one knows
exactly what one is looking for, then of course it is fairly easy.
But one of the great things about book review sections and magazines
is that one comes across information about titles one never knew
existed, or titles one had not considered in the proper light."
The Complete Review 05/01
THE CULTURE OF THE PRINTED PAGE: Just why are libraries destroying
books and newspapers after preserving them electronically? The
information contained on pages may thus be preserved, but such
destruction is an interruption in the culture of reading pages.
Are not the artifacts at least as important as the representations
of them? The Idler 05/07/01
CUTS BACK: Recent years have seen a slew of "old-guard"
magazines being taken over by famous editors, causing long-time
readers no small amount of trepidation. When Michael Kelly came
to The Atlantic last year, he promised a cosmetic facelift,
but no change in the historic monthly's editorial direction. Now
comes news that the July and August issues will be combined, and
the worried speculation starts all over again. The
New York Times 05/07/01 (one-time
registration required for access)
OFF ON THE WIND: Why is the parody version of Gone
with the Wind in legal trouble? "Though clumsy, self-important
and sometimes laughably silly, The Wind Done Gone ardently
contests the romanticized view of the antebellum South set down
in Gone With the Wind and proposes an Afrocentric version
of history in its stead. It is both a commentary on an iconic
work of fiction and a repudiation of that novel's worldview."
There is a long literary tradition of doing this. The
New York Times 05/05/01 (one-time
registration required for access)
NEW EMPEROR: Dave Eggers is a one-man literary juggernaut.
From his successful novel, to his snide, caustic, website McSweeney's,
to his own personal publishing house, Eggers has become the under-30
answer to Ted Turner: an undeniably brilliant but self-possessed
mind dragging the world kicking and screaming into the next incarnation
of entertainment and information, a place where the world is not
entirely sure it wants to go. The
New York Times 05/06/01 (one-time
registration required for access)
INTERESTS? A reporter's investigation and some subsequent
resignations rock the Hollywood Reporter. The issue points
up some of the difficulties when the industry you cover is also
the industry that buys your ads. The
Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/05/01
TOO MUCH: The family of French writer Victor Hugo are trying
to block publication of a book that has been dubbed "Les
Miserables II." "The novel, which has been described
as a blasphemous betrayal by its critics, contains many of the
characters from Hugo's famous portrayal of social injustice in
revolutionary France." BBC 05/04/01
RARE: Only a few scholars and wealthy collectors have access
to rare manuscripts and book. They're too fragile to be handled.
"Providing access to rare books while trying to preserve
them is 'the biggest problem libraries (with special collections)
have." Digital technology may help. Wired
HARRY: Sales of the Harry Potter books have passed
the 100 million mark worldwide. Harry has been translated
into 42 languages. Ottawa Citizen
OF IT AS PIZZA FOR YOUR BRAIN: "Last week, Cathy Kelly
became the Romantic Novelist of the Year, winning £5,000 and very
little respect from the critics. This is par for the course in
the world of romantic fiction: you earn a lot and die unnoticed...
All the genre novels have a hard time in literary circles... but
special abuse is reserved for the romantic novel. It's the junk
food of the literary appetite." The
Guardian (London) 05/01/01
CELEBRATION OF WHAT? National Poetry Month was a real bust.
All it did was focus attention on how much disrepair the art of
poetry is in. Why are things so bad? "The dullness of today's
poetry has become so pervasive, such a given, that we have to
force ourselves to remember that poetry is not at all dull by
nature." GoodReports 05/01/01
OF THE CITY: Twenty-five years ago, Armistead Maupin signed
on with a San Francisco paper to write a daily fiction serial
focusing on the lives of singles, both gay and straight, in the
City by the Bay. Such openness was nearly unheard of at the time,
but "Tales of the City" struck a public chord, and catapulted
Maupin into the ranks of the superstar authors. San
Francisco Chronicle 05/01/01
A LONG THINK: Just as the new Norton Anthology of Theory
and Criticism was about to go to print, it was discovered
that the tome was about 300 pages too long. "After two weeks
of debate and intellectual horse-trading, a new table of contents
emerged. Twenty-one thinkers, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
and Elaine Showalter, vanished from the collection entirely; selections
from three others were trimmed." Chronicle
of Higher Education 04/30/01
TO BE GREAT: Why are the Great Books great? "It does
not rest on William Bennett's assertion that the great is great
because 'it is the best that has been thought and said.' The greatness
of the great does not and cannot rest on a question-begging platitude."
ALL AUTHORS: "IPublish.com is a combination publishing
house, bookstore, writing school, online writing community, talent
search show and lecture hall all in one. And integrating all those
elements into one site has taken the better part of a year."