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Thursday August 31

  • KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT: The Chinese government has cracked down on Taiwanese book publishers at a mainland book exhibition; in addition to warning one publisher not to speak to the mass media about lack of Beijing's lack of freedom of speech, they have also stuck labels saying "Don't violate the one China policy" on Taiwanese books. China Times (Taiwan) 08/31/00
  • UNFAVORABLE REVIEWS NOT WELCOMED: Surprise, surprise - the Chinese government also banned one of Hong Kong's leading political commentators, whose books criticize communism and advocate Taiwanese independence. China Times (Taiwan) 08/31/00
  • NEW INTEREST IN BLACK WRITERS? African-American writers have long complained that big publishers have ignored them. But "in the past year, Time Warner, HarperCollins and Kensington Publishing are among those who started or acquired imprints specifically to release books by African-Americans." Chicago Tribune 08/31/00

Tuesday August 29

  • E-CONSOLIDATION: Big players in the e-publishing business are beginning to align to compete with one another and pirates. "The publishing industry must establish an honest market for electronic content before pirates find alternative markets." Wired 08/29/00

Monday August 28

  • NAME BESTSELLER: It's been a difficult summer for the New York Times Bestseller List. "Once the gold standard of commercial success in the book world, the list has been discarded by America's biggest bookstores, all of which now use their own lists as determinants of discounting policy and in-store real estate. And in separate incidents last week, the long-unchallenged authority of the Times list was called into question." Variety 08/28/00
  • HONG KONG'S NEW REALITY: The Chinese government seized a shipment of books heading to the US after being bound in Hong Kong. The book is by a former White House official, and "the publisher and printer said the book, 'The Clinton Years,' was seized because among its 227 black-and-white photographs was a picture of President Clinton clasping hands and chatting at the White House with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism." New York Times 08/27/00 (one-time registration required for entry)

Saturday August 26

  • ATWOOD ON PARADE: Margaret Atwood is 60 and has just released a new book. The publicity machine is buzzing at a higher pitch than ever before. "Being as famous as Atwood must be like carrying a bundle around on your back. People recognize you on the street. Even if they don't speak to you, they give you knowing looks, or else they avert their gaze as though you have a bizarre virus that is transmitted by eye contact. People want stuff from you - autographs, donations, appearances, opinions, money, patronage." The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 08/26/00
  • WRITING BEHIND BARS: "For almost as long as there have been prisons, prisoners have turned author for diversion, creative expression, solace, penance, vindication, vengeance and release (physically and metaphysically). But their works have rarely been examined as a genre, and for what they reveal about the literary impulse behind bars." New York Times 08/26/00 (one-time registration required for entry)

Friday August 25

  • WHAT MAKES A GOOD MOVIE? Vladimir Nabokov was an evocative writer. Yet attempts to turn his books into films have been failures. "Many film-makers have tried to mine the wily Russian, and this new attempt revives the question: can Nabokov ever be filmed successfully?" The Guardian (London) 08/25/00

Wednesday August 23

  • CARROLL LETTERS DISCOVERED: Five letters by Lewis Carroll have been discovered in an English castle. “We think it is quite exciting because the final letter was written so close to his death and was actually signed Lewis Carroll as opposed to his real name Charles Dodgson." The Age (AFP) 08/23/00
  • ABOARD THE E-BOOK TRAIN: A few years ago most publishers were skeptical about e-publishing. Now? "Give the industry five or 10 years and you'll see all bestsellers published simultaneously in electronic and traditional form. And in 25 years? Who knows . . . but the electronic format will probably be well ahead." The Age 08/23/00
  • WRITERLY RETIREMENT: Dancers, athletes and musicians retire. But what about writers? "Computer keyboards are not retired. Career best-seller records do not lead to teary stadium send-offs. The creative force that drives writing may still burn, but the energy to promote a book fades like the pitching arm of a middle-aged hurler. In some ways, mulling a writerly finale seems a bit morbid.  New York Times 08/23/00 (one-time registration required for entry)

Tuesday August 22

  • THE UPSIDE OF PIRACY: As the recording industry continues to mount legal challenges to Napster’s file-sharing technology, the publishing industry is assessing its own content - both its vulnerability, and its marketability. “It appears audio book publishers are poised to deliver the first insights. The MP3 format provides for a real variety of content - abridged, unabridged, something that's 20 minutes long, something that's six hours long.” Publisher’s Weekly 08/21/00

  • ANOTHER WAY: Dave Eggers' McSweeney's Books intends to cut out the middlemen between writer and reader. It's traditional hardback publishing, not e-books, although the writer doesn't get an advance, he gets "whatever remains after printing costs and incidentals, not to mention foreign sales, film sales, etc. Eggers isn't taking a dime." Inside.com 08/21/00

  • DOWNLOADERS COVER FREELOADERS: Frightened about being cut off from Stephen King’s latest online novel (that requires a $1 download fee), devoted fans have been sending extra cash to cover all the delinquent readers. King himself is surprised by the acts of generosity: “Publicly, I have always expressed a great deal of confidence in human nature, but in private I have wondered if anybody would ever pay for anything on the Net.” Salon (AP) 08/21/00

Monday August 21

  • NOT THE WRITE POLICY: The government of Scotland announced its long-awaited cultural strategy. "Aimed at providing a blueprint for the future of Scotland’s culture, key promises included an additional £7 million for the arts over the next three years, a feasibility study for a national theatre, support for a film studio and an audit of the nation’s museums and galleries." But why no mention of Scottish writers? The Scotsman 08/21/00
  • JUDGING WORK: "Readers and writers of the past - not just the geniuses, either; the intelligent, alert ones who kept current as we all like to think we do - remind us how culture and taste change. And why. What aesthetic, social and intellectual needs do beliefs serve in their time? Which ones serve us now, and why?" New York Times 08/21/00 (one-time registration required for entry)

Sunday August 20

  • HELPED BY HARRY: Phenomenal sales of the Harry Potter books have made JK Rowling Britain's highest paid woman last year, earning her £:20.5 million. The Age (Melbourne) 08/21/00

Thursday August 17

  • HARLEQUIN'S HEROINE: Pierced, intellectual, and independent, Harlequin Romance's editor-in-chief Isabel Swift may not seem like your stereotypical romance novel editor. But she may be just the woman to envision a new future for the world's largest publisher of romance fiction. "She wants to drag Harlequin into the 20th Century, if not the 21st, and she has a plan for getting there. If she succeeds, the Harlequin brand could return to its old, formidable self - like a wilted heroine flowering in the arms of her baron." New York Magazine 08/21/00
  • HOLY COMIC-BOOK LOVERS, BATMAN! "Only seven years ago, the comic-book industry was a $1 billion business; today, it's half that, with numbers decreasing each year." But that doesn't seem to matter to the 45,000 people who attended the world's largest comic-book convention in San Diego last week - the numbers may not look good, but those on the inside say comic-books are just getting better and more creative all the time. The Dallas Observer 08/16/00

Wednesday August 16

  • POETIC INJUSTICE: Chinese poet Bei Ling, a U.S. resident since 1988 and editor of the literary magazine “Tendency,” has been arrested by the Chinese government in Hong Kong. The Communist Party has recently stepped up its effort to crack down on dissident publications, and Lei is likely to be charged with “subverting state power,” which carries a severe sentence. China Times (AFP) 08/16/00

Tuesday August 15

  • OPEN BOOKS: In response to criticism that no one is actually buying e-books, electronic publishers released sales figures - modest, yet encouraging. “Given that printed books have been around for 600 years, and e-books have barely registered on the consumer radar yet, I think we're doing OK." Wired 08/14/00
  • A NOVEL IDEA: How worried does the audio-book business (a $2 billion-a-year industry) need to be about the recent proliferation of downloadable audio books on Napster-like sites? “The question really is whether there is a demand for audio books in the MP3 format. If there is, publishing would be well advised to figure out a legal - and money-making - way to make audio books available online. Readers might be willing to pay for the convenience of easy downloading if such a site were made available to them.” Inside.com 08/14/00

Monday August 14

  • KING OF THE (WRITING) WORLD: Does anyone write more than Stephen King? He cranks out projects like a man possessed. "Writing is just this great big conduit, this outflow pipe that keeps the pressure nice and even. It just pours all this [expletive] out. All the insecurities come out, all the fears - and also, it's a great way to pass the time." New York Times Magazine 08/13/00 (one-time registration required for

Sunday August 13

  • SUBJECT TO PREY: The relationship between biographer and subject can be adversarial. Sometimes subjects retaliate. "It's war, and a number of contemporary writers have tried to gain the upper hand by putting biographers in their novels and short stories." National Post (Canada) 08/12/00

Friday August 11

  • FROM MAILER TO OPRAH: Salon Magazine's “Reader’s Guide” to the best and worst contemporary fiction of the last 40 years. “The world of established literary giants, each one solemnly tapping out his version of the Great American Novel on a manual typewriter, has since dissolved into a fluid, unpredictable marketplace where the next critically acclaimed hit first novel might be written by a 57-year-old horse breeder from North Carolina or by a 36-year-old former aerobics instructor from India.” Salon 08/11/00

Thursday August 10

  • A SAD CHAPTER FOR ISRAEL'S LIBRARIES: In Israel, as in many other parts of the world, libraries are in terrible decline. Government funding has decreased, leaving Israel's libraries without money for renovations or new books - "of the 1,233 public libraries in Israel today, only 133 provide Internet services and only 10 lend out computer compact discs." Ha'aretz 08/10/00

Wednesday August 9

  • PROTECTING POTTER: Within a few hours of hitting the shelves last month, the latest Harry Potter book was available in pirated e-form over the web. Tuesday the Association of American Book Publishers and Microsoft announced plans to fight e-piracy. Washington Post 08/09/00

Tuesday August 8

  • POET ADVOCATE GENERAL: "Is there something churlish about Canadians that we balk at the idea of an official poet laureate? Are we too modest, too embarrassed? We certainly need an advocate for poetry. Poetry is the least honoured and the most respected of our art forms. A poet laureate would bring poetry to the people, giving us, as John Newlove said, 'the pride, the grand poem / of our land, of the earth itself'." The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 08/08/00
    • WHAT A DREADFUL IDEA: "Poets are already considered to be on the very bottom of the arts ladder, frantically vying with the likes of documentary filmmakers, performance artists and other degenerates. And Canadian poetry, in the main, is horrible, consisting primarily of nuanced references to woodchippers, and surprisingly vulgar accounts of childbirth. To crown a laureate then would be something like appointing a pantomime artist to remember the dead for us each November - a poignantly awful idea." The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 08/08/00
  • CHARACTER BUILDING EXPERIENCES: Thomas Keneally, author of "Schindler's List," seems to be fascinated with suffering and adversity; he has written about the Holocaust, the famine in 19th-century Ireland and British convicts being deported to Australia. His most recent subject of focus has been the struggling African county Eritrea. "'Novelists,' he says, 'write about fraternity and love across borders, race and culture and about characters who have everything against them "because the best stories are there.'" Sydney Morning Herald 08/08/00

Monday August 7

  • THE TRUTH ABOUT STORIES: Why do literary critics seem to be tripping over distinctions between fiction and non-fiction? "The trendy new genre 'creative nonfiction' is just a clever marketing tool — a way to sell the old tall tale, part fact, part fiction, by assuring us that what we are reading is 'real.' And that sense of clarity is not just reassuring, it also demands less of the reader — who does not have to suspend disbelief — and of the writer, who does not have to work as hard at rendering a story believable." San Francisco Examiner 08/07/00
  • DOING THE MATH: Xlibris, the book self-publisher believes it will make money in increments. "I'd say it's around two bucks for each copy of each title. Let's say I make $600 per title and I have 250,000 titles. Okay, well my calculator just broke, so it's a big enough number that my calculator's not happy. I think it's about $150 million. So, you see, the whole industry only makes sense if you believe that in, say, six to seven years, there will be close to half a million books published every year. We're doing 500 titles a month by ourselves, and our growth rate is around 20 percent a month. So, you do the math." Inside.com 08/07/00
  • OVER TO OVITZ: Thriller-writer Tom Clancy shocked the publishing world Friday by leaving his long-time agent for super-agent Mike Ovitz. The Telegraph (London) 08/05/00

Sunday August 6

  • IN THE LAND OF THE PHILISTINES: There are, of course, all the standard reasons for a publisher to turn down a book. "But what, I wonder, are 'all the standard arguments'? The notion that fortune - in the shape of a huge advance and a lot of hype for an unwritten first novel - favours the young? That the winner, so long as he or she has no literary record, takes all? That what sells a book is a pretty face on the jacket? No publisher would dare reject a book because the author was the wrong colour or the wrong gender, but to be the wrong age is unforgivable." The Observer (London) 08/06/00

Friday August 4

  • HARRY HELD HOSTAGE: The Canadian distributor of "Harry Potter" refused last month to ship more copies of the book to the Chapters book superstore chain until Chapters paid some of its large outstanding debt, says the distributor. National Post 08/04/00
  • WEB PAY: National Writers Union makes deal with Stephen Brill's Contentville to pay freelance writers a fee every time their work is downloaded from the site. Variety 08/04/00

Thursday August 3

  • INDEPENDENT BOOKS: The American Booksellers Association rolled out its new site to sell books from independent bookstores. "The ABA's 'save the indies' plan (nearly half of such stores have disappeared since 1994 due to the rise of chain stores and online booksellers, the organization estimates) has found some adherents while others remain skeptical." Inside.com 08/03/00
  • THE WRITE STUFF: Some writers insist if you want to be a writer, you must write everyday. Nice theory, says playwright Zinnie Morris, but it's not the way it always works: writing is a creative force with a will of its own. "My own experience of writing plays has taught me that it will come in its own time, but unfortunately also on its own terms. No amount of pencil-sharpening, toe-tapping, or switching the computer on and off will quicken the process." The Guardian 08/03/00
  • ZAI JIAN TO ONLINE CHINESE BOOKSTORE: Chinese Books Cyberstore (CBC), which may have been the largest Chinese-language online bookstore, has declared it will go into voluntary liquidation. The site, which offered over 200,000 titles, video disks, Chinese comic books, and arts and crafts, failed to secure additional funding from shareholders, who are still reeling from the international tech-stock slump. The South China Morning Post 08/02/00

Wednesday August 2

  • BOOK CHAIN SUES NEWSPAPER: Canadian bookstore giant Chapters sues National Post after stories alleging the chain was behind in payments to a large publisher. "CEO of Chapters says that the articles painted a distorted picture of his company." CBC 08/02/00
  • WILLIAM MAXWELL DIED at age 91 on Monday. Accomplished novelist and revered editor at the “New Yorker” for 40 years, Maxwell honed the prose of some of this century’s finest American writers, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, and Harold Brodkey among them. CNN 08/01/00
  • INFOBERG: Writers are upset about Contentville, which went online July 5. The site offers "books, articles, TV transcripts and old speeches, for sale starting at $2.95 each," but "some publishers are shocked at Contentville's chutzpa. The Village Voice says it licensed EBSCO to use content for educational and research purposes. 'It's outrageously unethical. Nobody ever dreamed of this. It's just gross.' " Feed 08/01/00
  • AN INTERVIEW WITH STANLEY KUNITZ, the new U.S. poet laureate. First published more than 70 years ago, Kunitz, now 95, has won almost every poetry award (including the Nobel in 1959 to the National Book Award in 1995), although he’s only published a handful of books. “I write poems only when I cannot escape them, when it is so urgent I will sacrifice everything else to do it.” A new Kunitz collection is due out next year. NPR 8/01/00 [Real audio file]

Tuesday August 1

  • THE "CAT" GOES LATIN: Two years ago a husband/wife team published a version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in Latin. It was an unexpected hit. Now they're back with "The Cat in the Hat." "Of course, unless you're fluent in the language of Cicero and Nero, it's hard to judge the playfulness of such lines as: 'At tunc quies est erepta!/ Tota domus est correpta/ Tum tumultu, tum fragore!' In the original English version, those same lines, about the first appearance of the Cat, go this way: 'And then something went bump!/ How that bump made us jump!/ We looked!' " Chicago Tribune 08/01/00

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