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Friday September 28

FIGHTING BACK TEARS WITH BELLY LAUGHS: Ever since the attacks of September 11, comedians of all stripes have been walking on eggshells. Some offer deadly serious messages of condolence, some skirt the subject entirely, but no one has tried to make comedic hay from the tragedy. Then, this week, the latest issue of the satirical newspaper The Onion hit newsstands, with content devoted entirely to the fallout from the attacks. Daring? Yes. In poor taste? Perhaps. But very, very funny. Wired 09/27/01

IN GOOD COMPANY: The American Library Association has issued its latest list of books that have been yanked from shelves or challenged for their "suitability." J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series tops the list with numerous claims that the books promote satanism, presumably in the same way the Mark Twain promoted racism and John Steinbeck promoted the beating of people from Oklahoma. BBC 09/28/01

Wednesday September 26

AUSSIE BOOK GLUT? Is Australia's book industry publishing too many books? Some say yes - the 200 or so Australian novels published this year were almost double the number published 10 years ago. "This glut on the market has created a 'literary logjam' that was 'suffocating' readers and cutting into authors' incomes, while the proliferation of creative writing courses has created a climate of unrealistic expectations and a 'false sense of reality' among aspiring writers. More and more novels are then being published and the infrastructure of reviewing, media attention and bookshop space is not coping." Sydney Morning Herald 09/26/01

EDITH WHARTON COMES INTO HER OWN: For forty years she was dismissed as "a reactionary, an antimodernist, a rich old-school genteel snob, and a minor female version of Henry James." Now it's Henry James who is being overlooked, and Edith Wharton "no longer has to be judged by his standards." New York Review of Books 10/04/01

Monday September 24

HARRY GOES PLATINUM: JK Rowling has won four platinum awards for her Harry Potter books. "The British book industry created the prizes, modeled after the music industry's gold and platinum records. The awards are based on sales in bookstores, supermarkets and over the Internet. Platinum awards recognize sales of more than a million books. Rowling is believed to have sold more than 100 million books worldwide." Raleigh News & Observer (AP) 09/23/01

Sunday September 23

NO MORE SATURDAY NIGHTS: Saturday Night, created in 1887 and Canada's oldest magazine, has been put out of its misery. The magazine was shut down last week by new owners. It hadn't made money in 60 years. "The reason, say industry experts, is that a series of desperate publishers and editors squandered the franchise's name and loyal readership base. Projected losses ranged from $10-million to $12-million dollars for the magazine for this calendar year alone." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 09/22/01

COMFORT(?) IN NOSTRADAMUS? "Within hours of the suicide missions that toppled the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York on Sept. 11, there was a rush in Toronto's libraries on a single book - not on the Qur'an, not on the Bible, not on any historical study of the ancient struggle between followers of Islam and Christ. The book everyone wanted contains the prophetic quatrains of 16th-century visionary Nostradamus, who, according to rumours burning up the Internet, had predicted the tragedy with stunning accuracy. The prediction was later disproved." Toronto Star 09/22/01

Friday September 21

ALL OF PUSHKIN IN ENGLISH, AT LAST: Of major Russian literary figures, Alexander Pushkin is the least read outside his home country. The problem is that he is so difficult to translate. Now, after years of editorial wrangling and politicking, the final volumes are ready in the first complete edition of Pushkin's works in English. The Moscow Times 09/21/01

Thursday September 20

THE DUTY OF THE WRITER IN TIME OF CRISIS: Is it irrelevant, in a time of tragedy and horror, to try to write a novel? Many writers - John Updike, Rosellen Brown, Tim O'Brien, Joan Didion, Ward Just, Robert Stone, and Joyce Carol Oates - have been asking themselves that question. "While many temporarily questioned their work, they ended up affirming to themselves the value and purpose of what they do." The New York Times 09/20/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Wednesday September 19

BERYL BOMBS OUT OF BOOKER: Beryl Bainbridge has been the odds-on favorite to win this year's Booker Prize after she was listed on the prize's longlist. But the shortlist is now out and she didn't make it. Finalists include Peter Carey, Ian McEwan, Rachel Seiffert, Ali Smith, Andrew Miller, and David Mitchell made the cut. This is the first year that judges revealed the 24 books on the longlist. The Guardian (UK) 09/18/01

  • IS THE BOOKER FIXED? "There is a well-established London literary community. Rushdie doesn't get shortlisted now because he has attacked that community. That is not a good game plan if you want to win the Booker. Norman Mailer has found the same thing in the US - you have to 'be a citizen' if you want to win prizes. The real scandal is that Martin Amis has never won the prize. In fact, he has only been shortlisted once and that was for Time's Arrow, which was not one of his strongest books. That really is suspicious. He pissed people off with Dead Babies and that gets lodged in the culture. There is also the feeling that he has always looked towards America." The Guardian (UK) 09/18/01

Monday September 17

BOOK-BOUND: Fall is usually packed in the publishing business. But this fall will be different as publishers postpone releases. "Not just personally but professionally, everyone in the business has felt repercussions from Tuesday's mayhem. Nobody would dare complain at a time like this, but sales will probably suffer as readers focus on other things for a while - among them reading's old nemesis, television. Where people are finding time to buy and read books, nonfiction is predominating, as people struggle to learn more about how this could have happened." San Francisco Chronicle 09/17/01

SHORT SHRIFT: "Canada must produce more short stories per capita than any other literary outpost in the galaxy, and the book reviewers of the nation are trembling under the weight." So enough. Enough. Let's call a ban on the genre. "The fact is our literature is at risk of becoming so small-boned, so petite, so lacking in ambition that it disappears up its own exquisite backside." Saturday Night (Canada) 09/17/01

WHAT MEMORY BRINGS: Lily Brett is a writer with an international reputation based on her writing about a screwed up childhood. Her sister, writer Doris Brett, has just published a book disputing that childhood. "Is this a case of terminal sibling rivalry? A Helen Garner-like row over a writer exposing one side of shared private moments to the public gaze? A reflection of the way some children of survivors end up with their parents' experience as a big part of their identity, and others don't? Or an object lesson in the way truth is never absolute, and memory is at best a fuzzy reconstruction?" The Age (Melbourne) 09/17/01

Friday September 14

THE APPROPRIATE MOMENT: There are many books about the World Trade Center or terrorism. "The question, with books that might be applicable to the recent situation, is whether you pull them forward. Which books should you delay, and which books might have an opportunity because of what happened. It's a question of finding the right and appropriate moment." Inside.com 09/13/01

CRITICISM FOR TOO MUCH AND TOO GOOD: Joyce Carol Oates has just published her 94th book. "Her recent Oprah pick, We Were the Mulvaneys, was the author’s first No. 1 best seller and has sold 10 times more than any other book she’s written." Yet she's criticized by some for her prolific output. Newsweek 09/17/01

Thursday September 13

RETHINKING ONLINE BOOK-SELLING: Canadian book super-seller Chapters had 150,000 customers with $5 million worth of orders unfilled when the company decided to rethink its online selling operation. Now the site is relaunching. The biggest change? Axing online book reviews. "Buying independent reviews is costly and not helpful to customers - they are not responding. We don't see additional activity. In fiction it's perhaps useful to have a snippet of what the basic novel is about." Toronto Star 09/12/01

FRENCH COURT RULES LES MIZ SEQUEL IS OK: "A French court denied a request by descendants of Victor Hugo to have a newly published sequel to Les Miserables pulled from bookstores on the grounds that it betrayed the spirit of the 19th-century classic. In its ruling, the Paris court said that Hugo, in his lifetime, had not wanted his descendants to exercise control over his literary legacy. The court cited Hugo as once saying he did not agree with the premise that 'descendants by blood were also the heirs of the spirit'." Nando Times 09/12/01

HIGH ON HIGH ART: The New Criterion is 20 years old. "It remains one of the liveliest and most controversial cultural journals in North America. To its many admirers, the monthly magazine is a brave defender of the beleaguered values of high art in a cultural environment poisoned by political correctness. To an equally large number of detractors, The New Criterion is the dour and dyspeptic voice of cultural reactionaries who inflexibly reject new developments in art." National Post (Canada) 09/13/01

Wednesday September 12

STANDING IN FOR TWAIN: One thing all authors can agree on: book tours are no fun. So what to do about publicity when the author has been deceased for decades? In the case of the new Mark Twain story published recently by The Atlantic, humorist Roy Blount, Jr. has agreed to stand in for the author on the PR blitz. Boston Globe 09/12/01

PINNING DOWN WILDE: Oscar Wilde's wide-ranging body of work has always defied attempts to pigeonhole the author's legacy. Last year, the British Library presented an exhibition that attempted to capture the many faces of Wilde through manuscripts, letters, and critiques. A somewhat-revised version of "Oscar Wilde: A Life in Six Acts" is scheduled to open in New York this weekend. The New York Times 09/12/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Tuesday September 11

BOOK COLLECTING AND THE ART OF INTERNET: Second-hand booksellers aren't exactly hurting these days - if - they're willing to adapt. The internet has radically changed the way book collectors collect. "It's close to revolutionised what we do - not necessarily for the best." The Age (Melbourne) 09/11/01

SEX AND THE BESTSELLER LIST: Michel Houellebecq's books are nearly automatic bestsellers in France, full of graphic sexual imagery and scandalous exploits. But is it just the pornographic aspects that attract the public (even as critics and crusaders scream about degeneracy and smut,) or does Hoellebecq's work have a higher value? The New York Times 09/11/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Monday September 10

CELEBRATING READING: US First Lady Laura Bush hosts the first National Book Festival in Washington. "Throughout Saturday's free event some 25,000 folks moved from book signings to author presentations to readings by professional basketball players to booths on literacy programs to musical performances to misting machines to food stands to the library itself, across the East Lawn, for self-guided tours of its Great Hall." Washington Post 09/10/01

GIVING IT AWAY INCREASES BOOK SALES: Most publishers are worried that online distribution of their books will kill their sales. But one publisher that has put everything it prints on the web finds that sales have actually increased. Why? "From our perspective, the Web is already the best dissemination engine ever, which has the side benefit of providing vast new markets and audiences for our work." Chronicle of Higher Eductaion 09/14/01

PLACING PRODUCT: So why all the fuss over B-list novelist Fay Weldon's product-placement deal in her latest book? "It's much ado about absolutely nothing. The 'sacred name of literature' - whatever in God's name that may be - hardly has been besmirched by Weldon's little caper, nor has the 'freedom of the writer to do as he pleases' been compromised. Literature is a lot bigger than all the little people who claim to labor in its name, and it will survive the petty transgressions of them all." Washington Post 09/10/01

NAME THAT CHARACTER: To raise money for a foundation that helps provide medical care for victims of torture, a group of writers is auctioning off literary immortality. "Writers Margaret Atwood, Pat Barker, Ken Follett, Robert Harris, David Lodge, Ian McEwan, Terry Pratchett and Zadie Smith have all agreed to name a character in their forthcoming books after those prepared to pay most for the privilege." BBC 09/10/01

COMMON READ: With citizens of Chicago all reading the same book (To Kill a Mockingbird) together (at least that's the claim), other cities are trying to choose books of their own to read. Taste being what it is, agreeing on a book isn't so easy. Toronto Star 09/09/01

Friday September 7

THE ART OF A BESTSELLER: A book review editor is reading an advance copy of a new book, when he notices the book has already scaled the Bestseller lists. How can this be? It's all in the art of advance marketing a hot property. Christian Science Monitor 09/06/01

FIVE BOOKS SHORT-LISTED FOR GELBER PRIZE: Three biographies, a memoir of Russia, and a study of money are finalists for the Lionel Gelber Prize. The $50,000 prize - world's largest juried prize for non-fiction - was established "to promote the study of international affairs and to increase popular interest in foreign policy and politics." CBC 09/06/01

Thursday September 6

REPEALING HOMEGROWN: For 20 years the British Columbia government had bought up to $150,000 worth of books by homegrown BC writers for each school in the province. Now the new Liberal government, looking for ways to save money, has canceled the program. CBC 09/05/01

WILL ANYONE USE A GREAT LIBRARY? Alexandria Egypt has spent the better part of two decades and $200 million building a library reminiscent of the city's ancient fabled library. "But while no expense has been spared, the library's cultural significance, and indeed its political prestige, appears lost on the vast majority of Egyptians, who have little interest in their country's pre-Islamic past. The likelihood of their ever being able to use it seems, in spite of refutation, undeniably slim." New Statesman 09/03/01

IRISH TIMES BOOK AWARDS: Ha Jin, Philip Roth, Denis Johnson, and Michael Ondaatje are on the short list for this year's Irish Times International Fiction Prize, worth £7,500. The competition also has awards of £5,000 in each of four categories of Irish Literature. Winners will be announced in October. The Irish Times 09/06/01

ANOTHER MIDDLEMAN IN THE AUTHOR-TO-READER CHAIN: Not very many people seem to be buying e-books, but more and more people are getting ready to sell them. Latest to join the marketplace is Yahoo! Inc, which has signed contracts with Penguin Putnam, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and HarperCollins. Yahoo officials say it gives "publishers a neutral ground, so to speak, in which to sell their books, and allows them some direct contact with online buyers." atnewyork.com 09/06/01

Wednesday September 5

ADOPT-A-BOOK: Do you long for the days when artists and writers were supported by their own personal impresarios, benevolent moneymen who bankrolled every new play, treatise, and opera that ever flowed from a visionary's pen? Well, you're in luck: "For amounts ranging from $250 to $50,000, book lovers can become art patrons -- patrons of the art of literature. They can adopt a particular book by a particular favorite writer and guarantee that it will always stay in print. Or, like a literary Santa Claus, they can donate an entire set of great works at cut-rate prices to a school or library." Chicago Tribune 09/05/01

Tuesday September 4

YOUR AD HERE: They do it in movies - why not in books? Product placement, that is. Why should it be just a plain jewelry store when it could be a Bulgari jewelry store? International Herald Tribune 09/04/01

FINALLY, A FOOT IN THE DOOR: The self-publishing boom has had an unexpected side benefit for one group of writers long underserved by the industry: "Random House, Ballantine, HarperCollins, Doubleday and Warner have all launched African-American imprints in the past couple of years, and dozens of the titles that they are issuing this fall were originally self-published." Wired 09/04/01

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Expectations couldn't be higher for James Franzen's new novel. So how are the reviews? "Though often self-indulgent and long- winded, the novel leaves the reader with both a devastating family portrait and a harrowing portrait of America in the late 1990's — an America deep in the grip of that decade's money madness and sick with envy, resentment, greed, acquisitiveness and self-delusion, an America committed to the quick-fix solution and determined to try to medicate its problems away. The New York Times 09/04/01 (one-time registration required for access)

WRITING FASTER THAN YOU CAN READ: A Vancouver publisher is sponsoring a writing competition, with the winner having her/his work published nationwide. The catch? All works submitted (and they must be full-length novels) must be written entirely in a single three-day period. National Post (Canada) 09/04/01

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