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Thursday, May 29

Who Is The Enemy of Literacy? "When the enemy of literacy is imagined to be television or comic books, one can rightfully feel impatient with the kind of pro-book aphorism found on a tasseled bookmark. But what if the enemy is fire, or incendiary shells, or Nazism?  In 'Library: An Unquiet History, Matthew Battles shows that the history of libraries is the history of the destruction of books." New York Sun 05/29/03

Wednesday, May 28

Translation? What Translation? A Canadian publishing house has announced that it will stop publishing the names of translators on the cover of books that were originally published in French. The reason is reportedly that consumers tend to be wary of translated books, and House of Anansi Press is hoping to attract new readership. Translators, who fought long and hard to get their names on book covers back in the 1970s, are understandably upset. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/28/03

Blogging For Freedom The blogging phenomenon continues to expand worldwide, and new reports out of the Middle East indicate that Iran, a theocracy with no free press, has become a blogging hotbed. One leader of the movement predicts that "until there is a free press in Iran again, weblogs will flourish. In the last few years about 90 (pro-democracy) newspapers in Iran have been shut down. So people have turned to the Internet to get news." Wired 05/28/03

Tuesday, May 27

Can Books Compete With Big Entertainment? Publishers meet to discuss how to revive their waning business. "Consumers now occupy some 300 more hours per year with 'entertainment' activities, compared to 15 years ago. It's a full plate of entertainment choices. Not surprisingly, consumers have an attention span of 'maybe 10 days,' which might explain why big authors aren't selling as well as in past years. The public is increasingly disenchanted earlier, and then rushes off to the next new thing. Consumers are no longer loyal to products or channels." Publishers Weekly 05/27/03

Bad Boys, Bad Boys....What You Gonna Do? Okay, so we all enjoy a good scandal book to one degree or another. But will disgraced New York Times reporter Jayson Blair make his fortune on a tell-all book? "The success of a mea culpa manuscript is as much a case of where as of who, how, or when. 'A story about someone who's been in a scandal or any sort of bad experience of whatever kind, for it to be an effective story the person has to have come out on the other side. The problem with Jayson Blair, he's still right in the middle of whatever he's going through. Clearly, he's thrashing around. To be an effective story, a book has to have a post-thrash perspective." Boston Globe 05/27/03

Monday, May 26

Australia's Writer's Favorite Books The Australian Society of Authors conducts a poll of its members to decide on a list of 40 favorite Australian books. "While it includes some of the big names in our national canon - Christina Stead, Henry Handel Richardson and Patrick White all make the top 10 - there are no books by Henry Lawson and none by Banjo Paterson. Nor are there any by Les Murray, Thomas Keneally or Robert Drewe. There are some surprise inclusions..." Sydney Morning Herald 05/27/03

Sunday, May 25

The New Chick Lit Imprints "Chick Lit is a literary genre that has been demanding attention for about four years. Since then, an explosion of books with candy-colored covers and sassy girlfriend titles have appeared on bookstore shelves across the nation. And now, Pocket Books, a division of publishing giant Simon & Schuster, is launching a new imprint called Downtown Press, symbolized by a shopping-bag logo and devoted exclusively to the genre." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/25/03

In Search Of The Great American Novel "What really is the Great American Novel? It seemed elusive to me, considering the wealth of good novels in the last century and a half. There's no such thing as The Great American Novel, only several good-great American novels, I'd declared, quibbling with the article 'the.' All we can do is trace the threads that run through these novels, isolate them as a scientist isolates germs in a petri dish, and see if that amounts to an American tradition, or an American canon, in the novel. Find what's quintessentially American - if it's there." Miwaukee Journal-Sentinel 05/25/03

Wal-Mart Censors Wal-Mart accounts for about 15% of Amnerica's single-copy magazine sales overall. 'They're the biggest newsstand vehicle in the country for magazines. Thus, Wal-Mart can be not only the country's biggest retailer but its biggest censor as well." Los Angeles Times 05/25/03

Literary Fest Debates Anti-Americanism Discussions at this year's Hay literary festival in the UK seem to have a common theme as it becomes "embroiled in heated slanging matches about anti-Americanism. The Guardian (UK) 05/26/03

Saturday, May 24

Chum In The Water - Harsh Critic About To Become The Criticized James Wood is described as "the most brutal, the most loathed, the most respected literary critic of his time." He has been "merciless in debunking many esteemed writers of the age — Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie. Now the New Republic book critic is about to publish his own first novel, and James Wood the novelist is fair game. "A critic writing a novel is like William Bennett in a casino. All eyes are upon him." The New York Times 05/24/03

The Queen Writes A Poem... (And We Think...) Queen Elizabeth wrote a poem:
"To leafy Balmoral,
We are now on our way.
But our hearts will remain
At the Castle of Mey.
With your gardens and ranges,
And all your good cheer,
We will be back again soon
So roll on next year"
And the Guardian canvased poets for reaction...
The Guardian (UK) 05/24/03

Friday, May 23

Oooh, I'm Sooo Bad (Now Buy My Book) "Performing shameful, humiliating acts and then writing about it for profit are not new, perhaps, but the trend seems to be accelerating with the recent crop of sinners clutching book contracts. Such books seem to revel in their authors' surpassing badness, in an unashamed -- indeed, almost gleeful - recitation of sins. The public, presumably, goes tsk-tsk - and then turns the page for more." Chicago Tribune 05/23/03

Thursday, May 22

Poetry Magazine Sues As $100 Million Gift Shrinks By A Third That $100 million that Ruth Lilly left to Poetry Magazine has turned out to be about a third less than promised. And the magazine is suing the bank that was managing the money. "Court documents show that when the fund was created, Lilly stock was selling for about $75 a share. By the time the bank unloaded most of it, it was about $48 a share. According to papers filed in Probate Court in Indianapolis, attorneys for the Poetry Foundation said the $102 million 'is a significant financial loss to Poetry and the other beneficiaries . . . and is a direct and proximate result of the bank's wrongful conduct'." Chicago Sun-Times 05/22/03

How Big Can Harry Get? When the fifth Harry Potter book is released in June, it will, of course, be the biggest literary event of the year in the English-speaking world. But how big, exactly, have Harry and his Hogwarts buddies become? "Worldwide, Amazon.com has received more than 875,000 orders for the book... The U.S. publisher of the Potter books, Scholastic, is planning a press run of 8.5 million." The cross-promotion is rampant, as well. The two big-budget movies "are both now out on video. Harry Potter clothing, backpacks, lunchboxes and video games crowd store shelves. There's a line of Harry Potter Lego that lets kids build their own Hogwarts Castle. Harry Potter is never out of the public eye." Ottawa Citizen 05/22/03

Wednesday, May 21

The Literacy Decade "According to UNESCO, there are currently about 861 million illiterate adults in the world. In response to this staggering number, the UN has declared the next 10 years the UN Literacy Decade. During this period UNESCO will initiate its 'International Plan of Action,' designed to mobilize national governments, public and private organizations, universities, and local communities to create literacy programs, research who will most benefit from such programs, and find ways to monitor their success so that they can be improved upon and replicated elsewhere." Poets & Writers 05/03

There's That Vast, Right-Wing Conspiracy Again! Conservatives may be fond of compaining about the 'liberal media,' but increasingly, right-wingers are becoming the most audible media voices. Books written by right-wing pundits to repudiate the liberal worldview are flying off shelves, and the Book-of-the-Month Club recently announced plans to launch a conservative-themed series. Pundits like Ann Coulter and Michael Savage are nothing new to American politics, of course, but their embrace by a traditionally wary New York publishing industry is a very recent development. Boston Globe 05/21/03

Tuesday, May 20

Endangered Speaking Languages are disappearing at an alarming rate. "According to new measurements, human languages face a greater threat of extinction than birds or mammals. Previously, the life of a language was measured rather arbitrarily by counting the people speaking it. But William Sutherland, a British ecologist, applied the standards of species classification to the 6,809 living tongues in the world to demonstrate what probably comes as little surprise to linguists: There are more extinct languages than species and more languages on the brink of vanishing." Chicago Tribune 05/20/03

Up The Amazon With A Review Newspapers are devoting less space to book reviews. "But one review venue is going strong and getting more attention of late: Amazon.com. Its customer-written reviews - some signed, some anonymous - are linked to book titles on Amazon's website. Anyone can write one (sorry, you don't get paid) and get it posted, and the opportunity has created a small cadre of people who have written hundreds - in some cases, even thousands - of reviews." Amazon reviews are getting more and more attention from publishers and authors because they influence sales. Boston Globe 05/20/03

Reading On The Decline In Japan Japan has a proud literary tradition - it has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. But reading seems to be in a sharp decline. "Once upon a time, one could look into a Japanese train and expect to see people doing one of two things: either sleeping or reading. But today one sees commuters who are preoccupied with portable electronic games, digital assistants and cell phones which enable them to send e-mail and surf the Net." Korea Herald 05/18/03

Is Literature Outgrowing Us? Is reading an activity adults grow out of? Really? Alex Good wonders "how did a habit of mind (not to mention a form of artistic expression) traditionally associated with maturity and intellectual depth get turned into an essentially juvenile activity? I never would have thought, as a young man, that a love of literature would be something I would grow out of. Was I wrong?" GoodReports 05/20/03

What Happened To The Well-Made Book? What's happened to the physical quality of books? "Setting aside magnificent art books and the sometimes quite extraordinary over-production of commercial 'jackets', the heft, boards, paper and design of a typical new novel or biography are decent and serviceable, certainly, but beautiful - no. Why should this be? Is it merely economics? A lack of aesthetic excellence is often blamed upon this quite nebulous excuse and on the declining standards of the book-buying public, which leave publishers under no obligation to make their books any better than they are." London Evening Standard 05/19/03

Monday, May 19

The Gray Lits You might think, the way we lionize the latest young writer that only the young can write a compelling book. "Older people aren't newcomers to literature. But older characters have tended to spend their time recalling their youths or coming to terms with their mortality. Now we are seeing the rise of books about sexto-, septo- and octogenarians who are seizing the here and now." Raleigh News & Observer 05/18/03

Working To Amend The Patriot Act US librarians and booksellers are organizing to protest the Patriot Act, which allows the government to access records of what books people are reading. "In an unusual display of industry solidarity, 32 groups representing a cross section of publishing-related organizations, regional booksellers associations and chain booksellers issued a statement in support of House Resolution 1157, a bill introduced by Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders that would amend section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act." Publishers Weekly 05/19/03

Women's Writing Is More Than Chick Lit "It may sound ridiculous, but judging by the clichéd offerings in the bookshops at the moment, much of the great romantic writing by women would never have seen the light of day if it had been submitted to today's publishers. Manderley would have sustained minor fire damage. Rochester's blindness would become acute hay fever. Cathy and Heathcliff would have had near-death experiences, survived, married. You get the picture. Now I'm not knocking the writers who succeed in either the chick-lit or the mummy-lit genres. However much we enjoy these books, and I do, they provide a pretty limited literary diet. Why should we be forced to endure a long summer on a selection of novels where tragedy is a sick nanny and failure is a lacklustre dinner party?" The Observer (UK) 05/18/03

What We Read - BBC Poll Tells All The BBC revealed the preliminary results of its poll to find out Britain's most-loved books. "Most of the usual suspects, and a few surprises, were on the list drawn from 7,000 titles nominated. The top 20 and the overall winner will be revealed in the autumn, after a summer of live radio and television, and online Big Read events. A poll by the BBC attracted 140,000 votes, four times as many as for the Great Britons last year. The corporation established elaborate precautions against ballot rigging and block voting, so it must be true that Jeffrey Archer's 'Kane and Abel' is hugged to the nation's heart, along with Winnie the Pooh, David Copperfield, and Jane Eyre. ." The Guardian (UK) 05/17/03

Saturday, May 17

Dispensing Argument Over Judgment The new literary magazing The Believer doesn't believe in the Thumbs Up/Down approache to criticism. "This is the editorial caveat I deliver when I assign a new piece: I tell the writer that you certainly can be displeased with what you've read, but your essay should still be titillating and intriguing enough to make people want to go out and read the book to see who they agree with, basically. An interesting ambitious book, whatever its flaws, should still be written about in an interesting and fair way." The New York Times 05/17/03

Screenplay Nation Used to be that writing programs at universities turned out plenty of eager young writers who dreamed of getting a story published in the New Yorker. These days they're still eager, but they're increasingly cashing in with big screenplay and book contracts. "The growth of these programs is a function of the amazing number of first-book contracts and film options that are making some young writers rich. About 40 percent of the 600 to 1,000 manuscripts we receive each quarter come from students in these programs." The New York Times 05/17/03

Thursday, May 15

Book Sales Plunge In March "The word circulating throughout much of publishing in recent weeks was that March was one of the worst sales months in a very long time." Preliminary figures suggest sales were down 11 percent in bookstores. Publishers Weekly 05/14/03

English 101 - Lacking In School It appears that English isn't taught very well in American schools, says a new study. "Nearly half the freshmen who entered California State University last fall ended up on the remedial English bench. Many were stunned to find themselves there. They had always made good grades in English." Los Angeles Times 05/15/03

Rebuilding The Coliseum (Bookstore) New York's Coliseum Books wasn't pretty or comfortable. But it was a great place to find books (and isn't that sometimes the point?). So Coliseum was lamented when it lost its lease last year and went out of business. Now it's reopening on 42nd Street, across from the public library. How to compete with the Barnes & Noble stores on every street corner? Well, there'll be books you probably won't find at B&N. And a coffee shop (the investors insisted). BusinessWeek 05/13/03 [Audio file]

Wednesday, May 14

The Future of Arab Fiction The Arab world is changing fast, and Arab writers are following suit, writing more freely about subjects once considered the worst kind of taboo, and producing work which eschews the defeatist, underdog tone which has for so long been the hallmark of the region. "Despite a wave of religious conservatism in the Arab world, the young generation of Egyptian poets and novelists is seeking ways to circumvent censorship, using the Internet and satellite television to disseminate their works." The young writers leading the charge are controversial, outspoken, and - surprise! - popular. Washington Post 05/14/03

Tuesday, May 13

That Future Where They Burn Books - Fifty Years Later Fifty years after its publication, Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" remains "a favorite of teachers who assign it to English classes and librarians who appreciate its celebration of literacy as the hallmark of civilization. The public loves it, too. Last year, 'Fahrenheit 451' reached No. 1 on the Los Angeles Times best-seller list after Mayor Jim Hahn made it the centerpiece of a citywide reading program. Mr. Bradbury insists that the purpose of "Fahrenheit 451" was not to prophesy. 'I wasn't trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it.' In one immediate sense, he failed." OpinionJournal.com 05/14/03

Comic Book Nation "Today, students who come to a campus with Spider-Man on their minds may have trouble believing it, but they share the superhero with middle-aged professors. For, in our scholarly lives, many of us are not just harking back to distant memories of the Marvel comics of our childhoods, but creating a new scholarship on the comic book and the comic strip. The scholarly part is an odd experience and, for the most part, a recent one." Chronicle of Higher Education 05/12/03

Monday, May 12

How To survive In Publishing To compete with other media vying for consumers' attention, publishers need to promote themselves more and cut prices, says a consultant. "Although the combination of lowering prices while spending more on marketing may seem a recipe for shrinking already slim profit margins, it is the best way for the industry to fight to get its share of consumer spending in an entertainment marketplace that is glutted with products." Publishers Weekly 05/12/03

How To Support Poetry On $100 Million When Poetry magazine was given $100 million to promote poetry last year, naturally everyone wanted to know what was to be done with the money. Just as naturally, everyone has ideas about what would put the money to best use in promoting the cause of poetry... Chicago Tribune 05/11/03

The Patriotic Thing - Oppose The Patriot Act Led by librarians across America, the campaign against the US Patriot Act is growing. The Patriot Act requires libraries and others to spy on American citizens. But so far, "103 cities, towns, and counties have passed resolutions against the USAPA, covering roughly 10 million people in the US. 'The more the USAPA and other similar repressive legislation are "outed" as misguided and paranoid, to say nothing of unconstitutional and quasi–legal, the more we can return to being a society that really encourages and appreciates the free exchange of ideas, not one that pays lip service to ideals and then locks up its librarians'." MobyLives 05/12/03

The "Great" Books We Hate? "We are all impressed, and a little cowed, by great reputations; so when we confront the works themselves but fail to appreciate their achievement, their technical skill and their freight of wisdom, we assume that the fault must lie in ourselves ­ in our limited grasp, our philistine blindness. But sometimes we hit back and allow ourselves the luxury to say, 'No, no, it's this damn book that is wrong; it's this crappy plot and its flat-as-a-flounder characters, and this dismal dialogue'." The Independent (UK) 05/11/03

Robo-Reader On The Job The downside to digitizing millions of books waiting to go online? Scanning them into a computer. Now there's a new robot enlisted in "the march toward digitization. Inside the room a Swiss-designed robot about the size of a sport utility vehicle was rapidly turning the pages of an old book and scanning the text. The machine can turn the pages of both small and large books as well as bound newspaper volumes and scan at speeds of more than 1,000 pages an hour. Occasionally the robot will stumble, turning more than a single page. When that happens, the machine will pause briefly and send out a puff of compressed air to separate the sticking pages." The New York Times 05/12/03

Sunday, May 11

Wanted: Books In Translation How come there are so few translations of books by Europeans in UK bookstores? Britain's Minister for Europe tries to answer the question. "It is weird that in the age of globalisation, we are more provincial and parochial than ever. Like the eager young Marxist who decided to learn Russian to read Karl Marx in the original we tend to get foreign wrong as often as right. Still, the best way into any country is to read one of its books." The Observer (UK) 05/11/03

Le Monde In Crisis "For the past few months, France's newspaper of reference and flagship of the world's francophone press has been engaged in a crisis unheard of since it was founded after the liberation in 1944. The house of Colombani has been shaken by the publication of La face cachee du Monde (The Hidden Face of Le Monde), a 630-page 'investigation into an institution above all suspicion'. The book has raised profound questions about the power the newspaper wields in France, and about the ethics and methods of those at its helm. The Hidden Face accuses Le Monde of everything from trafficking influence, running secret campaigns for favoured politicians and harassing businessmen for commercial gain to publishing anti-French propaganda, stifling internal debate and misrepresenting the group's sales figures and financial results." Financial Times 05/09/03

A Celebrated Writer Who Isn't In Top Form (He Admits It) It's been 17 years since Larry McMurtry won his Pulitzer. He admits he's not been in top form for some time now. That doesn't stop him from writing. "He allots only 120 hours of writing time to every novel now, a breakneck pace even for a prolific writer like McMurtry, who also revises his first drafts more lightly than most writers. In his autobiographical 'Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen,' he revealed two things, one intentional, one not: He considers himself only a shadow of what he once was, the greatest western novelist of his generation. The second, unintentional revelation? His nonfiction of the past decade has far surpassed his fiction." Chicago Sun-Times 05/11/03

Saturday, May 10

When Book Clubs Need Help The very words 'book club' can bring to mind the peace of a bright living room, where women balance plates on their knees, listening eagerly to one another's opinions, not letting anything distract them from serious literary discussion. The reality is something different. As in any leaderless group, people do what they want: show up or not, read the book or not, talk the entire time or sit mute, or ignore the book and do a lot of just plain catching up with one another." Enter the paid book club facilitator. San Francisco Chronicle 05/10/03

Thursday, May 8

Monkey Shakespeare With Lots Of S's Could monkeys typing actually produce Shakespeare given enough monkeys and enough time? "Now someone has attempted to put the theory to the test. Admittedly the British academics involved in this unusual project did not have an infinite number of typewriters, nor monkeys, nor time, but they did have six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys, and one computer, and four weeks for them to get creative. The results of this trial at Paignton zoo in Devon were more Mothercare than Macbeth. The macaques - Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan - produced just five pages of text between them, primarily filled with the letter S. There were greater signs of creativity towards the end, with the letters A, J, L and M making fleeting appearances, but they wrote nothing even close to a word of human language." The Guardian (UK) 05/08/03

Congressman Proposes Rollback Of Patriot Act Snooping On Library Patrons US Congressman Bernie Sanders introduces a bill to roll back some of the government snooping into libraries allowed under the Patriot Act. "We need law enforcement to track terrorists down before they do their evil deeds. But if we give up some of our most cherished freedoms — the right to read what we want without surveillance; the need for 'probable cause' before searches are made — the terrorists win, for their attacks will have struck at the very heart of our constitutional rights. To remedy the excesses of the Patriot Act that threaten our right to read, I have introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act. The bill, which has the support of Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, will establish once again that libraries and bookstores are no place for fishing expeditions." Los Angeles Times 05/08/03

New Electronic "Paper" Ond of the complaints about electronic publishing is that it doesn't have the "feel" of a book. Now, "in a paper published in the British science journal Nature, E Ink executives said they have successfully developed a prototype display just three-tenths of a millimeter thick, using stainless steel and a plastic covering, that can display words and pictures at up to 96 pixels per inch. Besides being lightweight, the display can be rolled into a half-inch-wide scroll without damage, E Ink said." Boston Globe 05/08/03

You Couldn't Wait One More Month? The Harry Potter craze is apparently causing a rise in one of the more traditional 'black arts': stealing. Author J.K. Rowling has been fighting court battles worldwide to stop unauthorized installments in the series from being published, and now it appears that someone is attempting to get their hands on the latest 'legit' Potter adventure a bit early. "Two copies of the forthcoming novel by JK Rowling were found in a field earlier this week - a quarter of a mile from where they were being printed. Two 16-year-old boys, an 18-year-old man, and a 44-year-old man, were arrested in connection with the theft of the books from a printworks, and on suspicion of obtaining property by deception." BBC 05/08/03

Wednesday, May 7

Young Conservatives Fight Campus Liberalism America's colleges and universities have long been thought of as bastions of liberalism in an increasingly right-wing nation, and students with conservative leanings claim that their views are often repressed in campus settings. A new seminar at the Jesse Helms Center in North Carolina is teaching students "how to start their own conservative newspapers and opinion journals. And how to pick fights with lefty bogeymen on the faculty and in student government." Los Angeles Times 05/07/03

Tuesday, May 6

The Next New Thing - Distributed Journalism? Distributed research offers out projects over the internet - Information is freely available and researchers take little pieces of a problem and work on them. Many people work on many parts of a problem, sharing their results until a solution emerges. "Distributed journalism works similarly. Different lines of inquiry will occur to different people, who bring different kinds of knowledge to bear on the same topic. The ability to concatenate that information online - particularly via those motley commentary sites and open diaries called blogs - makes the information discovered by each available to all." Reason 05/03

A Best-Of List To Cut Through The Hype Why make a list annointing the "best" writers in a country? Granta editor Ian Jack thinks "it's useful for readers to have a list that cuts through the marketing hype that declares every new book to be a masterpiece and tells book buyers that these writers are genuinely worth reading." The Granta lists, of course, have been widely debated... National Post 05/06/03

PEN Awards This year's PEN literary Awards are announced. Among the winners are playwrights John Guare and Craig Lucas and essayist William Gass. Los Angelels Times 05/06/03

Monday, May 5

Canadian Author Jailed For Publishing "An author who posted details of one of Canada's most notorious murder-rape cases on a Web site has been arrested for violating a court-ordered publication ban." Nando Times (AP) 05/05/03

First-Editions Of New Harry Potters Found In Field Two abandoned first-edition copies of the forthcoming new Harry Potter installment have been found in a field in Suffolk. "The books, found without covers, were dedicated to JK Rowling's husband, Dr Neil Murray, 37, and her two children, with the inscription: 'To Neil, David and Jessica who make my world magical'." BBC 05/05/03

Sunday, May 4

Are comic Books Dying? "Distributors used to deliver a bunch of comics to every newsagent every week, and many kids who had trouble with books got into reading that way. Now newsagents have to place a special order to get a comic, and most of them don't bother. Even if they see a comic like The Simpsons or Archie, a lot of parents think $6 is too expensive. Result: kids are playing video games instead of discovering the pleasure of print. The few hundred comics that sell in Australia each week are mostly bought by collectors over the age of 16." Sydney Morning Herald 05/05/03

Harry Scores Biggest Advance Sales in History It's long and it's expensive, but the new Harry Potter book, due to be released in a few weeks, has racked up bigger advance sales than any book in history. Sydney Morning Herald 05/04/03

Library Burning: War On Words In Iraq The burning of Iraq's National Library destroyed records of much of the country's intellectual life. "Even if alert curators and librarians succeeded in moving significant numbers of books to safety, Baghdad's most recent bibliographic losses are enormous. The National Library was the country's copyright depository, like our own Library of Congress; as such it contained copies of all books published in modern Iraq. Although Cairo and Beirut are the traditional centers of Arabic publishing, Iraqis have long been recognized as great readers-and in the 20th century, particularly before Saddam Hussein took power, the country's book trade flourished. But the library's holdings reached back to long before the rise of the Ba'ath Party." Boston Globe 05/04/03

Saturday, May 3

Reimagining Orwell George Orwell's 1984 has longe been interpreted as an anti-communist tract. But that's not entirely accurate, argues Thomas Pynchon. "Though 1984 has brought aid and comfort to generations of anticommunist ideologues with Pavlovian-response issues of their own, Orwell's politics were not only of the left, but to the left of left." The Guardian (UK) 05/03/03

Underground Nation During 2002, Eric Schlosser's history-cum-polemic Fast Food Nation sold almost 200,000 copies in its UK paperback alone. His next target? America's underground vices: "Today, revenues from porn match Hollywood receipts and exceed sales of rock. Some 20 years after Reagan's 'War on Drugs' began, marijuana cultivation has probably overtaken corn ? worth $19 billion annually ? as the nation's most lucrative cash crop. In Los Angeles County, 28 per cent of all workers are paid in untraceable cash: 'a triumph of underground practices and values'. Everywhere you look, the underground has flooded the mainstream. Together, these essays build into a secret history of America's favourite vices." The Independent (UK) 05/03/03

Spoken Traditions Into Pages "The Hmong had a purely oral culture, with no form of writing until the 1950s, when Christian missionaries developed one using the Roman alphabet." But for Mai Neng Moua, "raised and educated in the United States, it is the permanence and durability of words fastened into sentences and placed on a page that make sense of her life, her family's history and a culture at a crossroads. Mai is among the first generation of Hmong to write about the history and give voice to contemporary Hmong experiences." And she's collected Hmong stories for a book, the first-ever anthology of Hmong-American writing." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 05/02/03

Friday, May 2

Learning To Speak Good Grammer hasn't been consistently taught in schools for years. "Studies from as far back as 1963 have told teachers that it is useless and even "harmful" to teach diagramming, or for that matter any formal lessons on grammar. Students, according to the studies, retained little from old-fashioned grammar lessons, which stole time better spent on reading and writing. What's more, they suggested that focusing on grammatical errors would inhibit the students' creativity. As a result, grammar textbooks were long ago trashed and teachers were instructed to deal with usage problems one on one, when there was time. College education programs gave short shrift to grammar - and so, some veteran teachers say, many teachers don't know it well themselves. But grammar, once the meat and potatoes of any child's education, is back on the table." Newsday 05/02/03

Thursday, May 1

Delayed Satisfaction There are lots of reasons to embargo releases of books. "But more and more, embargoes are about creating hype for books that would have gone unnoticed. Maybe, as publishers will tell you, controlling the publicity increases awareness and sales. But it seems to me that, like all weapons of mass dissemination, embargoes should be used very, very sparingly." New York Observer 04/29/03

Critics Or Muggers? Bad reviews suck. Particularly bad book reviews. "There's no appeals process. No way to defend yourself in the court of public opinion, nor to question the critic's qualifications. Whatever they say, you eat. Period. Of course, if you happen to be named Clancy or King, or even Updike, a bad review doesn't matter so much, because you've already got an established audience. But for most writers, the plain cold fact is that critics determine how your work is regarded by most of the world. Consider the math: Tens of thousands of people read the reviews in major newspapers. Only a fraction of that number ever read the books being reviewed. If anything, writers suffer bad reviews more deeply than other artists." Poets & Writers 05/03

Potter Books Removed In India JK Rowling's lawyers have succeeded in getting two Harry Potter knockoff books removed from bookstore shelves in India. "One is an illegal Bengali translation of the first book, Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone but the other is a brand new text, starring the boy wizard but set in Calcutta." BBC 05/01/03

Hallmark & Angelou: A Match Made In The 9th Concentric Circle "Will National Poetry Month never end? I can't thing of any trumped-up, tricked-out, fake 'celebration' that has done more to rekindle my latent disdain for poets as worthless malingerers angling for the main chance... As if on cue, Hallmark Cards just dumped samples on my desk from Maya Angelou's 'Life Mosaic' line of Mother's Day kitsch. Hallmark is peddling gift cards bedecked with empty little maxims penned by the prolific hack and landfill-ready gifts such as a microwave safe, ceramic 'Giving' bowl, stomach-churning sentiment included: 'Gather around the table to pass this bowl of nourishment. And to serve a portion of healing ... .' What happened to this woman's dignity?" Boston Globe 05/01/03

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