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JUNE 2002

Sunday June 30

SATIRIST OR ANTI-SEMITE? German academic and novelist Martin Walser's latest book has been decried by a major newspaper as a thinly veiled collection of vicious anti-Semitism. The plot is ostensibly about a writer who kills a critic, but Walser's detractors claim that he is "not interested in the murder of a critic in his capacity as a critic. This is about the murder of a Jew." Naturally, the book sold out on its first day in stores. BBC 06/28/02

CLOSED BORDERS: A collection of leftist intellectuals is taking on the giant Borders bookstore chain over a little-known company policy known as 'category management,' which looks an awful lot like 'dumbing down the product' to book lovers. Borders claims that their market research supports the policy, but opponents insist that "there is a difference between books and Pop-Tarts," and that they should not be marketed in similar fashion. The Plain Dealer (AP) 06/29/02

DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS: "Textbook battles are legendary in Texas, where conservative critics frequently complain of liberal bias, and liberals counter with charges of censorship. The latest round, on July 17, when the board begins public hearings on which history and social studies books to adopt, promises to be particularly fierce. Nine conservative organizations have formed a coalition, recruiting 250 volunteers to vet more than 150 books." The New York Times 06/29/02

THE CURSE OF THE REWRITE: For those who create stories for a living, the prospect of spending days, weeks, or even months on a character or plotline that just doesn't end up going anywhere is constantly in the back of the mind. So how do the bestselling authors know when they've taken a wrong turn, and what do they do about it? The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 06/29/02

Thursday June 27

POWER STRUGGLE AT NWU: The National Writers' Union is meeting in delegate assembly this week in New Hampshire, and the internal strife is worthy of a Teamsters gathering. At issue is the presidency of Jonathan Tasini, who has been celebrated for winning the right of freelance writers to be paid for online publication of their work, but excoriated for stifling debate within the union and being unresponsive to the needs of the membership. Boston Globe 06/27/02

UK'S JOHNSON PRIZE TO A CANADIAN: "A Toronto university professor, Margaret MacMillan, has won the United Kingdom's most valuable non-fiction literary prize, for a 'splendidly revisionist' account of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Dr. MacMillan, who teaches at both the University of Toronto and Ryerson University and is about to become Provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, won the prestigious CDN$68,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, for her book, Peacemakers: the Paris Conference of 1919." National Post (Canada) 06/27/02

AMAZON IN CANADA: After talking about it for months Amazon finally announces its new Canadian store. "Amazon said the bilingual site will have prices in Canadian dollars, will take orders through Canada Post, and will post some reviews in both French and English. Amazon.ca will also give prominence to Canadian artists on the site while giving shoppers access to 1.5 million books, music, videos and DVDs available through the original Amazon.com Web site." Canadian booksellers have been protesting the plan, saying it will hurt Canadian book stores. Toronto Star 06/26/02

CLEAN SLATE: The original online magazine has a new editor, and Jacob Weisberg is promising that Slate will reinvigorate its cultural coverage, become more things to more readers, and maybe even turn a profit, all in the next year or so. Chicago Tribune 06/27/02

Tuesday June 25

BEST WHAT? As a measure of success, bestseller lists are also powerful marketing tools. To be a bestseller is to guarantee that thousands more potential customers will read your book. But. What exactly is a bestseller? "That may seem like an easy enough question to answer - it's the book that sold the most copies in the past week, a matter of simple, quantitative fact. In reality, though, the actual process of calculating a bestseller list from week to week often involves as much interpretation on the part of list-compilers as it does actual sales figures. And many observers despise the lists, claiming that they spotlight books for dubious or purely commercial reasons." Salon 06/25/02

Monday June 24

A GOOD YEAR FOR LIBRARIANS: Almost 21,000 American librarians gathered in Atlanta last week for the American Library Association Annual Conference. The mood was congratulatory. In recent months librarians successfully lobbied to remove requiredments they use software filters on library computers. And Michael Moore was there to thank librarians for lobbying his publisher to release his current book. Publishers Weekly 06/24/02

READING - JUST AN ILLUSION? "Are Americans reading more, or do they just want you to think they are? Sales have been flat in recent years, but praise of books both good and great is on the rise. Since TV host Oprah Winfrey announced she was cutting back on her picks, at least four new clubs have been formed, with literary novels such as Empire Falls among the beneficiaries." Milwuakee Journal-Sentinel (AP) 06/23/02

Sunday June 23

DIALOGUE REOPENED: A midwest arts magazine which ceased publication in April has been revived by a buyer from Columbus, Ohio. Dialogue, which has been publishing for nearly a quarter-century, plans to expand its focus and its distribution area, and the new owner insists that it will make money as well. The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 06/22/02

Friday June 21

BUSH APPEALS LIBRARY FILTERING: The Bush administration is appealing last month's federal court ruling striking down a requirement that public libraries install filtering software on their computers to block pornography. The court had ruled that filtering software wasn't able to block porn without also filtering other sites. Wired 06/20/02

  • INS AND OUTS OF BLOCKING: How are libraries dealing with pornography over the internet? In a variety of ways. "Each library system says its approach is meeting its needs — and that, librarians say, is the most important lesson of the pornography wars. 'Because libraries are so deeply rooted in their communities, librarians have the best read on their communities and how to approach the issues around Internet access'." The New York Times 06/20/02

WEIGHTY MATTERS: Why do successful American books seem to be getting fatter? "Recently, there seems to have been a correlation between enormous novels and enormous advances. Over the past five years, the American literary scene has been littered with big, fat books marking their author's claim on the Great (Big) American Novel: David Foster Wallace's truly infinite Infinite Jest, at 1088 pages; Don DeLillo's Underworld, 832 pages; and Thomas Pynchon's most recent, Mason and Dixon, 784 pages." The Age (Melbourne) 06/21/02

Thursday June 20

NOT SHAKESPEARE: Writing that "no one who cannot rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes deserves to be called a scholar," a prominent Vassar "literary sleuth" has determined that a poem written in 1612 that he had attributed to Shakespeare with great publicity seven years ago is not by the Bard. He says that "the Elegy he claimed for Shakespeare was actually more likely written by John Ford, a Jacobean dramatist." New York Observer 06/19/02

THE STORY OF MY (EXAGGERATED) LIFE: So many recent memoirs seem to contain exaggerated (or fabricated) stories. Is it that real life isn't interesting enough? Or is it that as fiction it wouldn't ring true? "What gives in the world of nonfiction these days? Why is it leaning so close to — maybe even into — the world of fiction? And why don't they just call it fiction?" MobyLives 06/19/02

Wednesday June 19

DEFENDING MUGGLES: Author JK Rowling has sold 67 million of her Harry Potter books. But she's in court defending charges by a Pennsylvania writer who claims Rowling stole key parts of her work for the Potter series. "I am deeply offended that my integrity and good character have been besmirched by the ludicrous allegations that I stole any part of the books." The Age (Bloomberg) 06/19/02

ACADEMIA ATTACKS STUPIDITY: Why are we stupid? A new book compiles some ideas. "Robert Sternberg's premise is that stupidity and intelligence aren't like cold and heat, where the former is simply the absence of the latter. Stupidity might be a quality in itself, perhaps measurable, and it may exist in dynamic fluxion with intelligence, such that smart people can do really dumb things sometimes and vice versa." Salon 06/19/02

Tuesday June 18

SHARE DARE: Librarians have an inclination to share. And electronic versions of books are an efficient way to share with the world. That's exactly what publishers are worried about. "Librarians have seized on the potential of digital technology and offered users free online access to the contents of books from their homes, and they are squaring off with publishers who fear that free remote access costs them book sales." The New York Times 06/17/02

SO WHO NEEDS OPRAH? Several TV book groups have started since the daytime diva decided to pack in her show's book club earlier this year. Some of them are rivaling Oprah's affect on sales. For example, Ann Packer's novel, The Dive From Clausen's Pier, has become an instant best seller after being chosen by Good Morning America. Washington Post (AP) 06/14/02

Monday June 17

LOOKING FOR SUPPORT: So you've landed that publishing contract. Got it made? "While the main advantage to being published by a big press is the distribution, marketing, promotion, and visibility it can offer, all too often that kind of attention is only bestowed upon the clearly commercial novel that is already earmarked to be a winner, usually because of the author's previous performance. Sessalee Hensley, fiction buyer for all 582 Barnes & Noble superstores, says the sad truth is that only 10 percent of books get any serious marketing or PR support." Poets & Writers 06/02

BOOK-AS-OBJECT: "Collecting books to read, or at least to refer to, makes every kind of sense. However, most serious book collectors do the opposite. They buy books they never intend to read, books they can't afford to read because it would damage their value to do so." London Evening Standard 06/17/02

KNOW IT WHEN YOU SEE IT? Never fails - every year there are a couple of prominent accusations of plagiarism. But there's a problem - "there is no single, universally accepted definition and, consequently, no effective punishment. We don't develop a fund of experience or build up much history on this topic. Cases like [those of Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin] come out once or twice every year, and always the same fundamental questions are asked. What is plagiarism? We don't make much cultural progress on the issue. As with pornography, people think they know plagiarism when they see it. However, the definition of plagiarism changes depending on the writer's role and motivation." Poets & Writers 06/02

RANDOM NUMBERS: Random House has posted a $14 million loss for the second half of last year, its first loss in four years. "All major publishers felt a decline in demand for books because of the recession and the terrorist attacks, but none of the other major publishers that publicly report results suffered as much. Revenue for the last six months of the year fell slightly at Penguin Putnam, held steady at HarperCollins and rose to $377 million from $350 million at Simon & Schuster. None reported losses." The New York Times 06/17/02

Thursday June 13

FICTIONABLE: The Australian fiction market is a respectable size, but “sales figures for fiction are down and fewer first novelists are being published. In 1999-2000 Australians bought 1.1 million new hardback novels worth $17.8 million, 1.2 million trade paperback novels for $13.9 million, and also spent $42.6 million on 8.5 million mass-market novels. In that period, 36 new hardback, 155 new trade paperback, and 1089 new mass-market novels were published. The Age (Melbourne) 06/13/02

Wednesday June 12

PATCHETT WINS ORANGE: American author Ann Patchett has won the Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel Bel Canto, The award is given to the best novel written by a woman, and is worth £30,000, one of the largest literary prizes around. "Bel Canto tells the tale of a group of Latin terrorists who storm an international gathering promoting foreign trade, only to find the president, their intended target, has stayed at home to watch his favourite soap opera." BBC 06/12/02

WHO BUYS BOOKS: In Australia "the $126-million book industry relies on women for the bulk of its sales. Women not only buy for themselves but for men and children. And it is 35 to 50-year-olds who buy the most. "The closer they get to 50, the more books they buy," Drum says. A national survey of reading, book buying and borrowing, completed last year for the Australia Council, found that women browsed more in bookshops, read more widely, and were happier relaxing with a book than men were." The Age (Melbourne) 06/12/02

CAL'S NEW POET LAUREATE: Earlier this year California had trouble attracting enough candidates for the job of the state's first poet laureate. This week, Quincy T. Troupe, a University of San Diego professor got the job. At the announcement of his appointment in the state capital, Troupe read "a pair of poems, one inspired by California's coastline, the other by Michael Jordan." California is the 24th state to have a poet laureate. Sacramento Bee 06/12/02

REJECTION AS A REVENUE STREAM: Tired of those form rejection letters for your Great American Novel? Stymied by your efforts to get your book in front of an editor? A new venture offers tips on how to get your book publishable. But the real lure is that a real live editor from Penguin Putnam will read and critique your effort. It only costs $119. "The plan makes a certain kind of sense: After all, there's a whole cottage industry of writers conferences, magazines and guides preaching the gospel to aspiring authors. But a publishing company is closest to the ultimate prize, actual acceptance. It could charge writers extra for a bona fide book editor to explain to the aspiring writer why she wasn't buying his manuscript. Rejection as a revenue stream!" Salon 06/12/02

Tuesday June 11

IS THE BOOK REAL? Rachel Simmons' Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls has had much play, climbing the bestseller lists and "helping ignite a national debate about 'mean girls'." But to one columnist, the quotes seemed not quite right, a little too sophisticated to be real. Contacting the author, she arranged to sample some of the interview tapes to check them. But when the time came, Simmons changed her mind and declined to reveal the tapes. "It must be said that Simmons and her publisher are well within their legal rights to refuse my request." But "when readers raise legitimate questions about a work's accuracy, the authors owe it to themselves, their subjects, their works and the world of letters to verify their claims." The News & Observer (Raleigh) 06/10/02

CALIFORNIA GRAPES: California has chosen John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath for its state reading club, asking everyone in the state to read the book. "Libraries, town halls, schools, universities, bookstores and theaters are planning Steinbeck-themed parties, readings, shows and lectures. And Hollywood, of course, is writing its own script, dispatching celebrities to add glitz to its read-along gatherings." San Francisco Chronicle 06/10/02

HEY HAY HEH: "Stratford has Shakespeare, Glyndebourne has opera, Hay-on-Wye has books - and its very own literary festival. Perched at the foot of the Black Mountains, the tiny market town of Hay boasts 39 bookshops, two million books and a population of just 1,200. And for ten days each year, the town hosts its very own 'Woodstock of the mind', as Bill Clinton dubbed it last year. It regularly attracts some 50,000 book-lovers from across the UK, Europe and the US. Well, that at least is the official blurb." But has Hay, with its squabbles and feuds and outsized operations, become too big for itself? New Statesman 06/10/02

Monday June 10

BEMUSEMENT AT BOOKER BRUHAHA: American critics continue to be amused at British angst over opening up the Booker Prize to American writers. Would the Americans dominate the competition? "Given the last two decades of ambitious experimentation by British writers, why do intimations of literary inferiority persist? In part, it's a reflection of the European view of the United States as a bullying superpower, acting unilaterally, be it in the political and military sphere or in the world of cultural commerce. In part, it has to do with what the British critic and novelist Malcolm Bradbury once called 'trans-Atlantic mythologies' — deep-seated attitudes that writers on either side of the ocean have long held about one another." The New York Times 06/10/02

DREAMING WHAT YOU READ: A new study says what you read is linked to what you dream. Researchers found that "adults choosing fiction had stranger dreams - but were more likely to remember them. While fantasy novel fans had more nightmares and 'lucid' dreams, in which they are aware they are dreaming. The dreams of those who preferred romantic novels were more emotionally intense." BBC 06/10/02

THE FICKLE READING PUBLIC: Last year it was reported that Saddam Hussein's first novel was an Iraqi bestseller. But "Saddam’s most recent novel - The Impregnable Fortress, a moving tale of love and war - has been selling poorly. This despite the fact that Iraq printed 2 million copies of the novel, issued purchasing quotas for each Iraqi province, and declared the work the best-selling novel in Iraqi history even before it was released. Saddam’s son Udai certainly did his filial literary duty to boost sales; he ordered 250,000 copies." Reason 07/02

REFUGE FOR POETS: New York's Poets House is 15 years old. "One purpose is to give poets a place to explore the work of other poets. It's largely from other poets that one begins to be a poet. You're not going to become one through learning prosody, but through the energizing force of the word. I think every poet begins by simply being enchanted by the sound of words. Like other poets, I remember walking — running rather — through the woods, shouting new words that I had learned." The New York Times 06/10/02

HOW TO WRITE A BESTSELLER: More than a few people get it into their heads that they can make a fortune writing a bestseller. How hard can it be? "Of course it can't be done. You might as well stand in a field during a thunderstorm and hope to be struck by lightning. Bestsellers defy analysis. But if you did want to prospect for this fool's gold, here are four guidelines." The Observer (UK) 06/09/02

PAUL GOTTLIEB, 67: "In his 20 years as publisher and editor in chief of the country's most notable publisher of art books he exercised vast influence, not merely on how such books are published but also on how art is presented and promoted at museums around the world. Gottlieb knew just about everybody connected in one way or another to publishing and art." Washington Post 06/10/02

Sunday June 9

READING INTO FESTIVALS: Nothing new about literary festivals, of course. But they're getting bigger and more popular. "If the literary festival, whether played out in a windblown north-of-the-border square, in the foothills of the Black Mountains or on the Suffolk coast, represents the public face of contemporary letters, then it also doubles up as the chief agency for establishing its hierarchies and pecking orders. Far more so than best-seller charts, the literary festival is an infallible guide to who's who and what's what in the world of books, and who cuts it with the punters." The Guardian (UK) 06/08/02

Friday June 7

ABOUT IDEAS, RIGHT? Sometimes literary festivals mutate into something other than events about books. "This year the 16th Hay Festival seems less a wholesale celebration of literature than a salute to almost every intellectual and practical pastime known to human life – archaeology, biotechnology, cookery, horseracing, art and much else too." The Independent (UK) 06/05/02

JUST STORIES? "The past two decades have seen a veritable explosion in biographical studies of philosophers. Since 1982, more than 30 biographies of philosophers have appeared. Of those, 20 have been published in the past decade, a dozen just since 1999. And more are in the works. Some see the trend as principally a reflection of currents in the publishing world, while others say it is a direct result of conceptual shifts in philosophy and in intellectual life more generally. But as the books keep coming, skeptics remain unpersuaded that this biographical 'turn' is of any philosophical importance." Chronicle of Higher Education 06/07/02

WEB FREE POETRY: Poetry in print is a problem - it's expensive to publish and it has a limited audience. But "on the web, distribution is no problem: it's all available 24/7, and everyone is equal, at least theoretically. There is the perfect book-buying system in Amazon, there are online poetry magazines and newsgroups. The publishers have websites so you can see what's available (bookshop poetry sections can be very patchy).Perfect in theory. How does it measure up? Google produces 7.25m pages for "poetry." The Guardian (UK) 06/06/02

Thursday June 6

OBJECTING TO A CANADIAN AMAZON: The Canadian Booksellers Association is fighting Amazon's entry into Canada. Canadian law requires that booksellers be majority-owned by Canadians. Amazon figures to get around the rule by forming a partnership with a Canadian crown corporation. The booksellers mainatin that "a review of Amazon.com's investment in the Canadian distribution and sale of books business would reveal, first, that the new entity would in fact be controlled by foreign interests and, second, that the investment would not likely be of net benefit to Canada." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/05/02

Wednesday June 5

IS IT WHO YOU KNOW? Yale professor Stephen Carter got $4.2 million for his first novel. But "why would a publisher pay $4.2 million to a first novelist manifestly without skills and apparently without gifts?" Newsweek 06/10/02

INSURING PROBLEMS: Add to the woes of independent booksellers the growing cost of insurance. Insurance premiums have risen sharply this year, and some independents fear this may put them out of business. Publishers Weekly 06/04/02

ONE OF THE GREAT DEMOCRATIC SPACES: "All cities have libraries, but only New York has one with a reading room two blocks long, where murals of blue skies and puffy clouds float overhead, and tall arched windows look out to Fifth Avenue on one side and Bryant Park on the other. The Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library is the center of the city's intellectual life and one of the great democratic spaces anywhere." Dallas Morning News 06/05/02

Tuesday June 4

BEACH BLANKET BOOKS: It's beach-book season again. "Perhaps it's just wishful thinking on the part of your faithful book snob, but it does seem as if there are some books of quality more visible in the mix this year. Perhaps it's a follow–up to some trends observed last fall, when readers in the new, post–9/11 world passed up lighter fare in favor of books about spirituality and politics, etc. Perhaps it's just the mini–rebellions made inevitable by the creeping crud of conglomerization taking over all aspects of the business. But whatever the reason, in this year's installment of Memorial Day book chatter, newspapers (outside of New York, at least) seemed to talk about some better literature than usual." MobyLives 06/03/02

Monday June 3

SYDNEY'S NEW LITERARY STAR: "The Sydney Writers' Festival, has, perhaps, finally found a legitimate niche in the city's increasingly crowded cultural calendar, with audiences this year expected to reach an all-time high of well over 40,000. With an increasingly high profile courtesy of a clever programing mix, the obligatory star guest names, healthy media attention and an even healthier book-buying local market, there is talk that the event may even be outgrowing its relatively new docklands home." Sydney Morning Herald 06/03/02

RAISING THE POETRY PROFILE: Canada's Griffin Prize for poetry pays the winner $40,000. But that's only a small part of the award. "More evidence of the success of the prize is the case of Christian Bök, declared the Canadian winner at a gala dinner Thursday. Bök's second poetry collection Eunoia (published by Coach House Books) has sold an unheard of 7,000 copies. 'We've reprinted it eight times. Most poetry books sell no more than 1,000, ever'." Toronto Star 06/02/02

SCANDAL INSECURITIES: Predictably, a wave of books about the Catholic church's pedophile scandal is making its way into American bookstores. "But as they begin shipping the first new books to stores this week, publishers are proceeding with trepidation, worried that a story of bungling bishops and pedophilic priests, may, in fact, repel the core Catholic audience." The New York Times 06/03/02

BRING ON THE YANKS: The British literary world's upset about Americans being included in the Booker Prize is a joke. "Does anyone over there really believe that American lit'ry fiction in this Year of Our Lord 2002 is so superior to that of Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth that it would swamp the Booker competition? What have these people been reading, or smoking? What a joke! The plain fact is that in recent years serious or 'literary' fiction from Britain and the Commonwealth has broadened and deepened, in scope and quality alike, even as comparable fiction from the United States has shriveled into what is rapidly becoming self-parody." Washington Post 06/03/02

Sunday June 2

IN PRAISE OF PAPER: Paperbacks used to be the publishing industry's "B" team. But "sales of paperbacks have outpaced those of hardcovers over the past several years, growing steadily even when hardback purchases have dipped. Anchor and Vintage, the two paperback-only imprints of Random House, have seen their sales volume increase more than 500 percent since the early 1990s. The surge has been driven partly by the boom in 'superstores' - chains like Border's or Barnes & Noble - but but also by big independent outlets." The Star-Tribune (Minneapolis) 06/02/02

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