AJ Logo

JULY 2002

Wednesday July 31

BRITISH LIBRARY CLOSED BY STRIKE: The British Library was closed for the first time in its history by a strike Monday. "The 24-hour closure was over the library's refusal to raise a 4% pay award to staff. These include the library assistants - some of them earning only £10,000 to £15,000 a year - who usually bring the scholar his books from library stores." The Guardian (UK) 07/30/02

MORE BRITS READING TO KIDS: A new poll in the UK reports that the number of parents reading to their children has more than doubled in the past two years. "Ninety percent of those polled said they regularly read to their child, compared with 40 percent when the same question was asked in 2000." The popularity of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter is offered as a reason for the jump. Atlanta Journal-Constitution 07/31/02

MORE FALLOUT OF THE PECK AFFAIR: Dale Peck's scathing criticism in The New Republic of Rick Moody's recent book continues to stir debate in the literary world. "We can do with some controversy in the staid world of literary criticism. Peck's literary antics have generated all sorts of discussion not only about Moody's novels, but about book reviewing in general. That's a good thing in my view. I wish we had more of it in this country." But there are few places where such criticism can be published. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/31/02

Tuesday July 30

MAINLY MALE (AND EVIDENTLY THAT'S OK): Is it a problem that The New Yorker publishes many more male writers than female writers? Dennis Loy Johnson's survey of bylines so far this year revealed an overwhelming number of male writers. But aside from a few letters reacting to his research and a defensive letter from the New Yorker, Johnson's surprised the issue hasn't touched more of a nerve. MobyLives 07/29/02

BOWLING FOR BOOKCLUBS: Now that Oprah's given up reading, it seems every TV chat show is getting into the book club business. How do they compare? Here's a survey. Boston Globe 07/29/02

LIFE IMITATES ART: Novelist Madison Smartt Bell always wanted to be a rock star, but you can't always get what you want, and Bell was content to settle down as an accomplished writer with a guitar. But when he began writing a new book about a songwriter last year, the thought occurred to him to add a new layer of realism to the project. Accordingly, the novel was released in conjunction with a set of original songs on Bell's website. Gimmick? Maybe. But it worked - Bell is cutting an album to be released next year. Wired 07/30/02

Monday July 29

LIFE OF THE BOOK: "Most books go through catabolic and anabolic cycles, just as foodstuffs are broken down to simple acids and usable energy, before the nutritional Lego is remoulded nearer to the heart's or liver's desire, using up some of the energy from the first step. So books, their information consumed, pass to charity shops, jumble sales, or through the hands of literate dustmen, to the lowest rung of dealer; and from there, they start an irregular climb, increasing in order, negative entropy, and incidentally price, until they reach the top collector of Wodehouse or Waugh, or the ultimate specialist in cheese or chess, concrete or campanology." The Guardian (UK) 07/27/02

WHAT'S THE SECRET? Readers seem fascinated by the act of writing, and they tend to ask writers detailed questions about their craft. "Musicians tend not to face these questions because it is not generally held that everyone has a symphony in him somewhere. Language however belongs to us all. Is there a hint of resentment in readers? 'We all speak English. We all write e-mails and letters every day. What's your secret? Just give us enough detail, and we can be inducted into the coterie, too.' It is almost as if some people feel that they were off sick or at the dentist's the day the rest of the class was told how to write a book, and that it isn't fair of authors to keep the mystery to themselves." The New York Times 07/29/02

Friday July 26

WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T TELL YOU? Authors are always complaining that publishers shut them out of the book-making process: "They don't tell you how much they are spending on promotion and advertising, don't tell you how many copies have been sold, although they send out so-called statements. They don't tell you that the editor who acquired the book, who believes in it, has one foot out the door and that your book is going to be handed off to an editor who doesn't care about it. They don't tell you that the public-relations person assigned to your book will be working with a celebrity author and will have no time for you." The New York Times 07/25/02

Thursday July 25

WORSE THAN BAD (AND A POX ON YOU ALL IF YOU DON'T THINK SO): Critic Dale Peck's roasting review in The New Republic of Rick Moody's new book was so shocking, it's got the literary world debating critical writing. "Reactions from other book reviewers ranged from dumbfounded horror to cringing respect to something like exhilaration. What makes for good criticism? Is the literary world too polite and clubby? Can a novelist fairly review his more critically acclaimed rival? And finally, what is the effect of this kind of skirmish on literary culture at large?" Salon 07/24/02

MAGAZINE OF THE MOMENT: The Atlantic's Michael Kelly has been in charge of the magazine for two years. "With Kelly's foot on the accelerator, The Atlantic can lay plausible claim to being the magazine of the moment. It won three National Magazine Awards in May, a harvest of honors matched only by The New Yorker. The current double issue - called ''probably the best issue of any magazine published in America this year'' by The Washington Post - contains the first installment of the longest work of journalism The Atlantic has ever published: William Langewiesche's 70,000-word series on recovery efforts at the World Trade Center. Though it's still losing money, The Atlantic's circulation has climbed from 463,000 to 598,000." Boston Globe 07/25/02

Wednesday July 24

NOVEL SPLITS GERMANY: Reaction in Germany to Martin Walser's new book in Germany has been violent. The work has been called anti-semitic and Walser has been been accused of attacking a prominent critic. "The extraordinary controversy surrounding Tod eines Kritikers demonstrates a considerable parochialism in the German literary scene. Too many of its denizens appear to be obsessed with what they see as the scandalous demonstration of anti-Semitism to read the text without prejudice. If they did so, they would recognize that the novel’s weaknesses do not lie in the savaging of identifiable personalities or the author’s private animosities." Times Literary Spplement 07/17/02

TOO FAMOUS TO WRITE: A bizarre trend is developing in the fraternity of superstar fiction writers: big-time bestselling authors like Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler are employing other writers to write their books for them. This is not ghostwriting, per se - the 'real' author's name usually appears on the front cover, albeit in much smaller lettering than that spelling out the more famous name of the 'creator' - but it does seem to call into question the basic definition of an author. "In the marketing world such profit-seeking forays are known as brand extensions -- like Pepsi Twist or GapKids. In order to get away with such sleight of hand, writers need three things: a fruitful imagination, a total lack of personal style or voice, and a reputation as a rainmaker." Washington Post 07/24/02

CHAIM POTOK, 73: Novelist Chaim Potok, who had been ill with cancer for some time, died at his home in Pennsylvania Tuesday. "Mr. Potok came to international prominence in 1967 with his debut novel, The Chosen (Simon & Schuster). Unlike the work of the novelists Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, which dealt largely with the neuroses of assimilated secular Jews, The Chosen was the first American novel to make the fervent, insular Hasidic world visible to a wide audience." The New York Times 07/24/02

Tuesday July 23

READ AND RELEASE: That book you found at the theatre last week was left on purpose. Each book carries a note beseeching "the reader to 'read and release' and is part of a global sociology experiment. Already boasting 18,000 members in North America, the craze has begun to take hold in the UK, with more than 200 books now released across the country, proving that books and the digital age can co-exist. Part book club, part message-in-a-bottle experiment, the idea encourages people to register books on the website and then deposit them in public places, such as coffee shops and aeroplane seat pockets." The Scotsman 07/23/02

SELFLESS SUCCESS: The stigma of self-published books is disappearing. As more self-published books rack up sales thanks to new distribution channels, traditional publishers are paying attention. "It's just smart business to pay attention to the self-publishing successes. If an author, on her own, meets with reasonable success, a larger company has reason to believe it can build on that success and find a more significant audience." Wired 07/23/02

MORE THAN COMIC BOOKS: "Graphic novels" are essentially comic books for adults, and so far this year 1.5 million of them have been sold in the US. "Publishers and comic connoisseurs use the term 'illustrative literature' to describe the books, which they say emerged from reader demand for more sophisticated comic-driven storytelling. 'The thing about it is that everybody understands the vocabulary of comics. ... The hope is that people who see and like the movie will be interested enough to begin to cross that perceived forbidden land into the world of comics and graphic novels'." Raleigh News & Observer (AP) 07/23/02

RETURN ON INVESTMENT: Advances to authors have been soaring. Are these books really worth millions of pound? "While the rewards may be great if a title catches fire, a book that bombs not only leaves a dent on the balance sheet, it leaves egg on the face of the publisher." London Evening Standard 07/22/02

GETTING UP FOR POETRY: The Poetry Review has new editors for the first time in 16 years. Their initial effort seems a bit... discouraged. "It seems a little sad not to admit wanting to bring new readers to poetry at the beginning of one’s editorship. What if you weren’t eagerly awaiting this issue? Would you plunge in? Not, perhaps, if earlier issues had put you off anyhow." The Times (UK) 07/23/02

Monday July 22

UP THE AMAZON: Amazon.ca has launched in Canada, despite protests from the country's other booksellers. But vistors to the site are reporting screwups in pricing (sometimes making books at the Canadian Amazon more expensive than at the US site) and delivery snafus that occasionally delay orders for weeks. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/22/02

POWER OF BOOKS (AND GOOD TEACHERS): "When I encountered Franklin Lears, I was a high-school thug. I was a football player, a brawler, who detested all things intellectual. The first time I saw this meager guy with his thick swinging briefcase, I wanted to spit on the floor. He was absurd, a joke. If you had told me that in eight months I would have decided to live my life in a way that was akin to his, I would have told you that you were crazy; I would have spit, perhaps, at you. But that is exactly what took place: I went on to become an incessant reader, a writer, a university professor." Chronicle of Higher Education 07/26/02

DO IT TO ME BABY: Why is most writing about sex so dull? "There is pornography, there is eroticism, but is there anything else? D.H. Lawrence did it, Jilly Cooper does it, and everyone literary from Julian Barnes to Anne Michaels to Chloe Hooper does it; but have they actually written about it, or have they written about the stuff that surrounds it, the emotions, the personal politics, the sensuality, the awkwardness? Have they, in point of fact, in the main avoided the act itself?" The Economist 07/20/02

Sunday July 21

MAKING READING MASCULINE: Let's face it: book clubs are a largely female phenomenon. And it's not that there's anything wrong with that, but there are men in the world who like to read and discuss books too, and some of them have apparently been having a hard time finding forums to do so. Why book clubs seem to be required to be single-gender affairs is anyone's guess, but a Canadian library is on the verge of launching Men With Books, a club designed to lure the y-chromosome crowd with "a stack of testosterone-fuelled reading material chosen to help ease men into the chatty intimacy of a book-club environment." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 07/20/02

Thursday July 18

GET A JOB! What happens when a society turns out too many writers as writers? Their experience is narrow. How does one write cogently about the world when one's world view is narrowly born? "That these people don’t know anything about how 80% of the world gets along isn’t important. Nor is it important that, one suspects, they don’t even know anyone who knows. What is troubling is the fact they don’t seem particularly interested. The labouring classes certainly aren’t very interested in contemporary fiction, and so contemporary writers in turn ignore them. This has led to a great closing of the literary mind." GoodReports 07/17/02

STEALING TO THE BEAT: Not that it's scientific, but "the books published can be examined as a sort of insight into a society's psyche. So, too, can the choice of books stolen. Which means that different categories of books are ripped off in different parts of the country, and often neighborhoods within the same city can be identified by the genre of books lifted." The New York Times 07/18/02

Wednesday July 17

A FAME LESS FAVORED: Publishing for the scholarly world can bring the satisfaction that your peers will see your ideas. But it's a small audience and a limited fame. "Academics grumble all the time about the public's neglect, the slow pace of scholarly reviews, and the feeble publicity efforts of university presses.' So you might think that a scholarly writer would be delighted to be reviewed in the general press - the New York Review of Books, or the New York Times, say. But not always. "Scholars are justly indignant when, after spending five years mastering a subject, five months formulating a thesis, two years writing a manuscript, and another two years waiting for a press to accept and produce the book, they read a review of their work by someone who has never done research on the material." Chronicle of Higher Education 07/19/02

WRITERS' BLOAT: Writing programs have proliferated at American colleges. "In 1992 there were 55 master's of fine arts graduate programs in creative writing in American colleges. Now there are 99. The number of universities offering creative writing degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level is 330, up from 175 a decade ago." Why so many? And do they really do much for the cause of good writing? Chicago Tribune 07/14/02

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? The New Yorker is riding a crest of reinvigoration since David Remnick took over as editor. There's no question the magazine has improved under his tenure. But in one respect the NYer is delinquent. Where are the women writers? "As it turns out, there have even been issues of The New Yorker this year where the magazine's table of contents featured no women at all, or where the only contribution by a woman was a single poem." Here's an issue-by-issue tally for the year. MobyLives 07/16/02

Tuesday July 16

SOME KIND OF SHOPLIFTER: Barnes & Noble keeps some books off its shelves and behind the counter. Why? No it's not censorship. Sometimes a book gets held behind the counter because it's just so gosh darn popular, and the good folks at B&N know their customers don't walk all the way to the far ends of the store to find them. The other way books get behind the counter is if they make the most-stolen list. But really - Martin Amis? JD Salinger? That's some kind of shoplifter. MobyLives 07/15/02

LIBEL LIABILITY: Insurance companies, hurting after large payouts in the past year, have dramatically hiked premiums on libel and copyright infringement insurance. As a result, some publishers are passing on the costs to authors, and the National Writers Union has dropped its libel insurance policy for writers. "There's no doubt you're going to have authors thinking twice, and society will be the poorer for it. The books that might not get written are the ones that most need to see the light of day." Publishers Weekly 07/15/02

Monday July 15

BEYOND MAGIC: Latin-American writers first came to the wide attention of North Americans and Europeans with the magic realism novels of the late 60s and 70s. But the new generation of writers has turned away from magic realism. 'What has died is the dictatorship of the 'boom' followers who imitated them ad nauseam and managed to reduce their literature to a (mere) formula.'' The Age (Melbourne) 07/15/02

Friday July 12

THEN THERE'S THE ONE ABOUT STALIN AND KRUSHCHEV... Russian police are investigating a Russian writer for a 1999 book he wrote that contains scenes of sex between the Soviet dictator Stalin and Khrushchev, his successor. "The investigation alarms advocates of freedom of expression, concerned about the possibility of a return to censorship under President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who was elected in part on the strength of promises to re-establish order." Nando Times (AP) 07/11/02

HARRY POTTER WASN'T AVAILABLE? "Fantasy author Terry Pratchett has been named winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal for the best children's book of 2001 - his first mainstream literary award, despite being one of the UK's best-selling authors. Pratchett was described as an "international publishing phenomenon" by the prize organisers." BBC 07/12/02

FINAL COPY: The head of Australia's largest university has been forced to resign after multiple claims that he plagiarized. David Robinson, the embattled vice-chancellor of Monash University, quit after being summoned back from a trip to London. "He could see he was creating damage for the university. The only solution that he could see, and I could see, and we came to this together, was to leave." The Age (Melbourne) 07/12/02

Thursday July 11

GENERAL WRAPUP: In April, General and Stoddart, Canada's largest book distributor, shocked the country's book industry by declaring bankruptcy, owing $45 million to various creditors. This week a court allowed the return of thousands of books to small publishers, much to the relief of those publishers, but also a sign that the company's reorganization attempts have failed. Toronto Star 07/11/02

UP THE CANADIAN AMAZON: The Canadian government has ruled that Amazon should be allowed to set up in Canada. The govenment, examining the deal to ensure the company met Canadian ownership quotas, said that " Amazon.ca doesn't fall under majority Canadian ownership rules because the investment doesn't involve the establishment of a new Canadian business or the takeover of an existing domestic business." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/11/02

Tuesday July 9

WHR4RTTHOU? Study guides have been a lifeline for many a last-minute student. For years CliffsNotes has been the go-to guide for the unprepared. Now there's competition. SparkNotes promises a hipper, more irreverent interpretation of the classics. How do they compare? "Either way, a crutch, a crutch. You'll be fortune's fool to rely on these! Beware." Washington Post 07/09/02

POETRY WARS: Poetry Daily is a web phenomenon, with some 400,000 visitors coming to the site each month. Indeed, poetry is hot on the web - listed in surveys as one of the top ten reasons people use the web. So many were interested when Verse Daily recently started up. But the site seems like a ripoff of PD, largely copying its format and architecture. Further, the site asks for money but its editors decline to reveal who they are. Just who is Verse Daily? MobyLives 07/09/02

E-READ VIABILITY: Many have been quick to write off e-book publishing because it hasn't lived up to the hype of the internet bubble. But quietly, e-book publishers have been building a business in the past year. "We in the e-publishing industry are here to stay. It's just going to take some time to build the industry," Sanders says. "But building it we are. No stopping us." Wired 07/09/02

Monday July 8

SUPERSIZE IT: How many Barnes & Noble stores is too many? There are 600 superstores in America now, and after several years of expanding rapidly, the pace of expansion has slowed in the past few years . But the company believes there is room for 1000 stores and is beginning to grow quickly again. The New York Times 07/08/02

GETTING OFF THE WORLD: It's almost impossible to be a book reviewer for any length of time and not be torn by conflicting feelings when writing about a book. Maybe you know the author but hated her book. Or maybe you know the author and you liked his book. The literary world is small; it's difficult to stay aloof. Maybe the only solution is to found an island where a critic would have no contact with anyone who has anything to do with anything... The Guardian (UK) 07/06/02

ALREADY UP THE RIVER: Canadian nationalists have been objecting to Amazon's entry into the Canadian book market. But Amazon's presence is already a fact of life, writes Alex Good about the country's already largest bookseller. The book business is changing in many ways - and keeping Amazon at bay is a small matter compared to those other issues. GoodReports 07/05/02

STUDYING THE STUDIERS: Intellectual historians sometimes grumble that their peers don't regard them as doing "real" history. After all, they study books and ideas, rather than digging around in archives to chart the course of wars and revolutions, or the almost-unreconstructible life of, say, an Aztec peasant. Tony Grafton works on old, dead classicists. How much less-sexy can you get? And yet his work is read not only by medievalists and Renaissance scholars, but by a general audience as well." Chronicle of Higher Education 07/08/02

Friday July 5

(FAKE) HARRY IN CHINA: The new Harry Potter is out in China. Trouble is - it's a fake An anonymous Chinese author penned a new Potter. "While Rowling’s name appears on the cover, the book is hardly the prose style her readers have come to know and love. Characters from the real Potter books have been resurrected and new ones invented, and one reader said the plot could have been borrowed from Tolkein." The book has become a big hit. The Times (UK) 07/04/02

Thursday July 4

BORDERS TO RESTRUCTURE: Book superstore Borders has announced a restructuring of its business. "But in large part because the plan is called 'category management,' some in the book world have reacted with fear and suspicion, linking category management with such notorious general retail practices as stores selling shelf space and stocking control to suppliers, or big-box retailers dictating to suppliers. Moreover, because part of the plan involves publisher contributions to help fund consumer research and training and the institution of 'lead'publisher partners in many categories, some have concluded that the plan includes preferential payments, misuse of co-op, and larger publishers blocking smaller publishers' access to Borders's stores." Any foundation to the fears? Publishers Weekly 07/03/02

Tuesday July 2

NOT WRITE: B.R. Myers, who got the literary world in an uproar last year with an attack on the quality of contemporary literature, is back. His critique is being published in book form. "In A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose (Melville House), one-time Atlantic Monthly writer B.R. Myers claims that a vast conspiracy between corporate publishing houses, mediocre writers and mindless reviewers has robbed the nation of good, meaningful books." New York Post 07/01/02

BOOKS AS ART - WHAT A CONCEPT: As large publishing houses become more and more focused on selling greater numbers of mainstream books, a curious thing is happening - small publishers are taking on classics and less-commercial books and finding they can be profitable. Dalkey Archive Press has made a business for itself with books the bigger presses won't touch. "A lot of interesting things are becoming available because conglomerate publishers treat books as a commodity, not as art objects." MobyLives 07/02/02

Monday July 1

I, REVIEWER: Thousands of "book enthusiasts, freelance writers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals" are writing reviews of books for book sites on the internet. They don't get paid. And yet, some of them have as much influence on book sales as professional critics. Why do they write? And better yet - why do readers pay attention to them? Wired 07/01/02

GOING ALL LITERARY: The great literary supplements of the early 20th Century helped define intellectual life. The Times Literary Supplement was one of the best. But what happened, wonders a new book on the supplement. "The TLS's earlier pieces on fiction, poetry, and literary criticism—specifically Eliot's and Woolf's essays—are by far its most impressive achievements; but some of its more recent ones, bloated and nearly incomprehensible, undoubtedly represent the paper's nadir." The Atlantic 07/02

RANDOM BOREDOM: Phyllis Grann, who built Penguin Putnam into one of modern publishing's strongest houses, but then left last fall for a job as vice chairwoman of Random House, is leaving Random House after only six months, complaining of boredom. "Ms. Grann had no clear territory within the company's many rival fiefs, and she complained that the company's many publishers seldom sought her advice." The New York Times 07/01/02

Home | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
Copyright ©
2002 ArtsJournal. All Rights Reserved