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Wednesday, November 26

Amazon Gets Into The Cataloging Business "The British Library and online retailer Amazon are helping the public to source and buy rare antique books. The library's catalogue of published works is now on the Amazon website, meaning it has details of more than 2.5m books on the site. Some 1.7m of these books are pre-1970 volumes, not previously available... [However,] the British Library stressed it was only the catalogue records that would be made available, not the archived collection." BBC 11/25/03

Tuesday, November 25

India Bans Sales Of Autobiographical Tell-All "Sales of the latest autobiographical book by the exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin have been blocked in India after a Calcutta poet complained about the depiction of a three night long sexual encounter between the pair." The Guardian (UK) 11/25/03

The Tiger Woods Of Short Stories John Updike is master of the short story, writes Louis Menand. "The whole idea is to make language perform its own little supernatural act, which is to turn marks on a page into an emotion, an effect, an apparition of something that is not there, a ghost. You could say that the complexity of the machinery used to produce this is hidden beneath the surface of the writing, except that the writing is the machinery, just as sex is only bodies. The satisfaction comes from the creation of a feeling where there was no feeling, only words, or flesh, or golf balls. People like Updike, or Tiger Woods, make you aware, by what they do, that this satisfaction is possible in life, and that it can be as supreme a satisfaction as there is." The New Yorker 11/24/03

Coady To King: Shut Up And Go Count Your Royalties Lynn Coady was a bit perplexed by Stephen King's recent tirade against highbrow literary culture at the National Book Awards. "He seemed unable to stop himself... asserting that the gap between 'the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction' must be closed. To which a bemused Joe Average can only reply: Dude, you're a billionaire. It is not for you to gripe about egg-headed and arbitrary distinctions between high and low art. Accept your award with humble aplomb and resume laughing your way to the bank." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/25/03

Harry Potter, Part XVI: Attack Of The Clones One significant byproduct of the wild popularity of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series has been an explosion of the entire children's fantasy genre. Not all the Harry wannabes are particularly good literature, but with publishing houses and booksellers alike determined to find the Next Big Thing in kid-lit, there's no shortage of new books involving young wizards, dragon eggs, and supernatural detectives. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/25/03

Monday, November 24

New Museum Of World Literary Heritage A new museum of world literary heritage has opened in Switzerland. The new museum contains "manuscripts and volumes ranging from an Egyptian Book of the Dead through Shakespeare folios to a first edition of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/24/03

Sunday, November 23

Jump In Bookstore Chain Sales Major bookstore chains posted another big gain is sales for the quarter ended Nov. 1. Sales "rose a healthy 8.7%, to $1.84 billion. It was the largest increase for the chains in a non-Potter quarter in at least two years." Publishers Weekly 11/24/03

Dale Peck: Extreme Book Reviewing Dale Peck is a human hatchet disguised as a literary critic. He's unequivocal: "Novels and memoirs are on a wrong course. They are either inward-gazing, solipsistic and impotent or unconscious and rarefied, written by recidivist realists who pretend the twentieth century didn't happen." And America's other book critics? "They are back-scratchers, afraid for their own careers - novelists reviewing their friends' works. It is very dishonest." The Observer (UK) 11/23/03

Thursday, November 20

Getting Beyond Harry - Developing A Taste For Reading Rachel Billington thinks it's great that children are excited about reading Harry Potter. But what comes after that? In orevious generations, "there was no aggressive marketing to switch us in the direction of a particular book. Finding a book was an adventure that involved real choice. The question for modern parents is how to build on the popularity of a smallish range of exceedingly popular contemporary children's books and lead their goggle-eyed offspring to wider shores." The Guardian (UK) 11/21/03

Stephen King To Book Awards Group: Read More! Terry Teachout attends the National Book Awards banquet as a judge. Stephen King’s speech was "interesting. He was clearly moved by the honor—he choked up. He was funny and unpretentious when paying tribute to his wife and talking about the "vulnerability" to self-doubt of poor, struggling authors (such as himself when young). I suspect he was the first National Book Award laureate ever to say "Oh, shit!" in his acceptance speech (he was describing the way an honest author might portray a terrified character in extreme circumstances). And he was simultaneously a bit defensive and more than a little bit aggressive when he informed the crowd that they’d be making a mistake if they treated their decision to give him the prize as an act of 'tokenism'." About Last Night (AJBlogs) 11/20/03

Hazzard Wins, King Fumes at Nat'l Book Awards Shirley Hazzard took the top fiction prize at the National Book Awards last night, winning for The Great Fire, her first novel in nearly a quarter-century. Cuban memoirist Carlos Eire took the non-fiction prize, and C.K. Williams won the poetry award. In the strangest moment of the evening, bestselling horror writer Stephen King accepted a medal of honor, and then lashed out at the literary world during his acceptance speech, explicitly criticising those authors "who make a point of pride in saying they have never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer." The New York Times 11/20/03

Wednesday, November 19

The Trouble With Self Publishing There are about 4.5 million books in print. And the number of new books each year has been growing at an alarming rate. Why? The proliferation of digital self-published books. There are some downsides to the new publishing - self-published books haven't been vetted through the usual process of editors and publishers. And print-on-demand publishers don't take returns from bookstores... Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11/16/03

NYTimes Book Review - Caught Between Two Worlds? The New York Times is looking for a new books section editor to replace Chip McGrath. "Mr. McGrath’s successor will arrive at a time when there is actually some larger debate about book reviewing going on. It’s all a bit strangely polarized: On one end of the spectrum are the likes of the militantly mild Believer editor Heidi Julavits, issuing rambling screeds against "snarky" book critics. On the other are bomb-throwers like the novelist Dale Peck, who routinely goes after big quarry in his long reviews in The New Republic, and whose supposed acts of critical derring-do got him an anthropological profile in The New York Times Magazine last month, as if an ambitious, bloodthirsty critic were some kind of special case that demanded to be analyzed. Some see these extremes, and the attention they’re getting, as reactions to the wishy-washy state of the Book Review." New York Observer 11/19/03

Literature Idol - Coming To A Book Fair Near You The Pop Idol series has been a hit around the world. Now the idea is being transfered to literature. "Lit Idol has been organised by London Book Fair to uncover untapped talent in the world of fiction writing. The winner will secure a deal with a leading agent which would be almost certain to result in a contract." Entrants submit work, which will be voted on over the internet. Finalists will be judged after readings at the London Book Fair. BBC 11/19/03

Tuesday, November 18

Broad And Popular (And That Ain't Bad) "The International Impac Dublin literary award, is the most eclectic and unpredictable of the literary world's annual gongs. The Impac is one of the world's richest prizes but it is arguably more remarkable for its breadth of coverage and truly global nature than the size of its coffers. Nominations for the prize are made by 162 different libraries in 47 different countries. As a result, the longlist is staggeringly long but also incredibly broad, featuring a range of genres and nationalities. This year the list is notable for the sprinkling of popular titles. The Guardian (UK) 11/18/03

NYT Book Review - Discriminating Or Influential (Can't Have Both?) Who will replace Chip McGrath as editor of the New York Times Book Review? And what will happen to the section? "I understand why the Times wouldn't want to give up the section's gravity, but if you wanted to make your mark as the editor of the Times Book Review, the first thing you would do is to make it less influential. That would give you the license to make the reviews livelier and more discriminating." Village Voice (2nd item) 11/18/03

Monday, November 17

Potter Past 250 Million Sales of the Harry Potter books have passed the 250 million mark worldwide. "The series has been sold in more than 200 countries and translated into 60 languages from Hindi to Ancient Greek. The fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix, sold 1.78 million copies on its first day in the UK alone." BBC 11/17/03

Poetry And The $100 Million Gift - A Year Later Ruth Lily's $100 million bequest to Poetry Magazine last year has resulted in nicer offices and financial security for the publication. But the magazine certainly hasn't gone on a spending spree. "In some ways, there is an oil-and-water mix to poetry and money. Poets just are sort of ill at ease around a lot of money. This thing has been a shoestring operation for years. I don't think anyone wants to get too fancy. You know, it tends to make me nervous to go out and buy a lamp or something." The New York Times 11/17/03

Canadian True Crime Writer Faces Charges For Publishing Canadian true crime writer Stephen Williams is facing 94 charges and has had his computer confiscated by Ontario police after defying a publishing ban with his two books analyzing the case of the brutal sex killings of Canadian teenagers. The Writer's Union of Canada has called for a public inquiry into the police treatment of Williams and his wife, award-winning humor author Marsha Boulton, saying that the actions of the authorities are an unwarranted attack on freedom of expression." Publishers Weekly 11/17/03

Sunday, November 16

Reading A Story Person-By-Person (Literally) "New York author Shelley Jackson plans to 'publish' her short story 'Skin' by having each word tattooed on a different person.
Volunteers are pouring in from all over the world - bookshop assistants from London, mothers and daughters from Nebraska, artists from Brazil, a man in Bangkok. There will be ifs, buts, ands and other words inscribed on heads, arms, legs and backs from Birmingham, England to Birmingham, Alabama."
The Observer (UK) 11/16/03

Take This Mcjob And... So McDonald's protests the inclusion of "mcjob" in the new Mirriam-Webster Dictionary. "If McDonald's couldn't accept satire as the price of fame, though, why didn't it protest the McJob coinage long ago? The first use in the Nexis database, it's true, wouldn't have raised hackles: It was an innocent play on words in a 1985 UPI story on the labor shortage. 'Ronald McDonald has a mcjob for you,' it began, with no scorn intended. But McJob in the 'robotic, dumb' sense popped up in the Washington Post just a year later..." Boston Globe 11/16/03

In Search Of: Missing Books That Won Awards When Canada's Governor General Adrienne Clarkson first looked in the Governor General's library, she discovered that 150 of the 492 books that have won a Governor-General's Award since the inaugural prize in 1937 were missing from the collection. Scouring secondhand bookstores, Clarkson and her husband John Ralston Saul have reduced the number of missing books to only 11. "The problem is that the vanished volumes are now out of print and thus nearly impossible to find..." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/16/03

Saturday, November 15

Morrison - A Difficult Read "In these early years of the new millennium, a new Toni Morrison novel is a seismic event. She is a Nobel laureate and, at 72, is considered one of the country's greatest living writers. Her always-ambitious novels, such as "Song of Solomon" and "Beloved," are written on a grand scale and she has become iconic.
Washington Post 11/15/03

Thursday, November 13

Online Library For the Blind Launches The Canadian National Institute for the Blind debuts a new online library for the blind. "There are more than 10,000 audio, text, and Braille titles available on-line, including recent bestsellers such as Life of Pi and The Stone Diaries. Users can also search and order from a collection of more than 60,000 titles." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/13/03

No Books About Chimneysweeps In the Works Just Yet Who better to launch a children's book imprint than Mary Poppins? Julie Andrews, the actress who played Poppins, has contracted with mega-publisher HarperCollins to launch just such a project. Andrews has written multiple children's books herself, and the new imprint will feature only books which have her personal stamp of approval. Philadelphia Inquirer (AP) 11/13/03

Glover Takes Governor General's Award Canadian expat Douglas Glover has won his native country's Governor General's award for fiction, beating out Canadian über-author Margaret Atwood for the $15,000 prize. Glover's winning novel, Elle, is a fictionalized account of 16th-century French noblewoman Marguerite de Roberval's years as a castaway. Other winners in the GG awards, which celebrate the best Canadian writing of the year, were Vern Thiesson (drama,) Tim Lilburn (poetry,) and Margaret MacMillan (non-fiction). Toronto Star 11/13/03

Perhaps A Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down System Would Help? With Chip McGrath stepping down from his position as editor of the venerable New York Times Sunday Book Review, there is an opportunity for the new editor to finally make some much-needed changes to the section, writes Alex Beam. "Books are fun and interesting to read, but the Sunday Book Review is neither... Too often the reviews read like book reports, cooked up using a predictable formula: summarizing the book, inserting some praise, perhaps ending with a guarded reservation or two, carefully phrased so as not to offend... [Furthermore,] the review hardly ever helps you answer the key question: Should I spend $26 on this book?" Boston Globe 11/13/03

Wednesday, November 12

Whitbread Shortlist Announced "Booker Prize winner DBC Pierre and three other Booker nominees are on the UK's Whitbread book prize shortlist. Pierre's Vernon God Little is chosen in the first novel category, while Mark Haddon, Shena Mackay and Barbara Trapido compete in the novel category." BBC 11/12/03

Tuesday, November 11

Understanding Orwell In the 100th anniversary of George Orwell's birth, there is still much disagreement over the man and his work. "Few would assert that Orwell the man is personally guilty of all the obtuseness that he is invoked to vindicate. Equally untenable is the position that Orwell was not responsible for his life and work. He did things, he wrote things, that can't be explained away as objects of misinterpretation." MobyLives 11/11/03

Madonna, The Literary Experience "For once even Madonna seems uncertain how her new vocation as scribe and teacher fits into or builds on her pop identity. The awkwardness is palpable in Madonna's second children's book, Mr. Peabody's Apples, a cautionary tale about 'the power of words' based on a kabbalah fable. Madonna has always demonstrated great faith in the power of word of mouth, but she's never been what you might call articulate—methinks 'Express Yourself' was not about writing sonnets. But Apples tests the power of words carefully chosen: not in the text, which is dull, uninspiring, and poorly punctuated, but in the marketing that surrounds it." Village Voice 11/11/03

Sucking Up To Guinness Today, the Guinness Book of World Records will sell its 100 millionth copy. In honor of the occasion, Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten is making an attempt to get himself into the book with "the shortest bylined newspaper story ever written." (For the record, his blatant suck-up is 1/56 the length of this blurb about it.) Washington Post 11/11/03

Monday, November 10

Hating My McJob McDonald's is complaining to dictionary publisher Merriam Webster for adding a new word. The word is "mcjob", defined as low-paying, dead-end work. "In an open letter to Merriam-Webster, McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo said the term is "an inaccurate description of restaurant employment" and "a slap in the face to the 12 million men and women" who work in the restaurant industry." Yahoo! (AP) 11/09/03

Wednesday, November 5

Tour Too Much Trouble "Surely, the thinking goes, if a publisher is really "behind" a book, the house will pony up the money and the arrangements for an author’s soon-to-be-triumphant national tour." Yet the reality is that book tours today usually aren't worth the effort or expense... New York Observer 11/05/03

Vassanji Wins The Giller. Again. "M.G. Vassanji, who won the first Giller Prize in 1994, won for the second time — for his novel The In-Between World Of Vikram Lall — as the most celebrated literary prize in the country marked its 10th anniversary last night. Vassanji, a former physicist who grew up in East Africa, is the first two-time winner of the $25,000 fiction prize... The other finalists were John Gould for Kilter: 55 Fictions and John Bemrose for his first novel The Island Walkers." Toronto Star 11/05/03

Tuesday, November 4

Book Sales Roar In September Book sales were sharply up in September, the book trade's best month in a long time. "Children's hardcover category continued to show the strongest gains as sales in September increased 62.1%. For the first nine months of the year, children's hardcover sales were up 56%. Adult hardcover, which has had an up-and-down year, posted a sales gain of 31.7% in September, although year-to-date sales were off 5.8%." Publishers Weekly 11/04/03

Season Of Celebrity - With The Fall Comes... "Why determine the season via autumn leaves or diminishing daylight? When the best-seller list is as packed with brand names as it is now, it becomes its own kind of calendar." The New York Times 11/04/03

Is The New Book Culture Killing Literature? "Literature now is in a dangerous zone where there seems to be little separation between the private act of writing and the public performance demanded of writers," says author Michael Ondaatje. "Books are judged today as successful or not depending on sales and jury short lists. Meanwhile the critical climate, for all the media coverage of writers, is random and manic... And with awards, the one thing we have to admit about juries is that they can often choose the wrong books." Toronto Star 11/04/03

The Serious Business of KidLit JK Rowling aside, authors who focus their efforts on the youth market are not in what you would call a moneymaking line of work. Most have day jobs, and few ever manage to earn a full-time income from writing children's books. But children's authors take themselves and their genre quite seriously, and they put as much time and effort into crafting a 200-word picture book as other authors put into an 80,000-word novel. National Post (Canada) 11/04/03

The Power Of The Literary Drunk Alcoholism is not an entertaining disease, and let no one claim that it is. "But drunks do make great literary characters. They are quest-driven and tragic, marked for a destiny they cannot escape, and full of passion... Like all great literary subjects, drinking is transformative; it changes the metabolism of the alcoholic, even the very structure of his cells. It allows for carnivalesque abandon and provides the novelist with a catalyst for visionary truth... The best writing about alcoholics manages to explore the degradation the disease inflicts while respecting the dignity of its victim." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/04/03

Monday, November 3

Amazon Scales Back Search Amazon has apparently scaled back its nifty new search engine which allowed surfers to search texts within books. "The program had allowed users to print for free each excerpt and a few pages surrounding it. That capability led critics, chief among them the Authors Guild, to protest that Web users would forgo buying books from which they could print large chunks of copyrighted material." Chicago Tribune 11/03/03

Sunday, November 2

Complaints From Kabul Asne Seierstad story "The Bookseller of Kabul" about Shah Mohammed Rais and his family, is a big bestseller. But the subject of her book is furious, and not sitting still without complaining. "In a nightmare scenario for any writer, her one-time ally has not only hired a high-flying lawyer, but flown out to Oslo to rally support. After welcoming Seierstad into his home after the fall of the Taliban, Rais says he is outraged by his portrayal as a tyrannical traditionalist bent on imprisoning women, including his teenage second wife." The Guardian (UK) 11/03/03

  • Previously: Norwegian Bestseller - Got It Wrong In Kabul? A Norwegian journalist observes an Afghan family, then writes a best-selling book about them. The subject of the book is outraged, and flies to Europe to protest. "Since then, the public confrontation over "The Bookseller of Kabul" has become the talk of Norway, with televised debates galore, some newspapers jumping at the chance to run photographs of the striking blond author and more serious newspapers arguing the political correctness of first world journalists judging third world cultural traditions." The New York Times 10/29/03

When Google Meets Amazon Amazon's new searchable book service has been widely praised. But Google looks like it's trying to get into the act too. "For the last few months, Google has been courting publishers, hoping to convince them to turn over book content that could be used in Google's database, say people close to the discussions. How that content would be presented is not clear, but it would likely not be provided in excerpted passages to customers, as it is on Amazon. Instead, the material would go into a database that Google spiders would comb, then turning up relevant links. If a user clicks through, they would be sent to a separate page that contains a book abstract and the opportunity to buy the title." Publishers Weekly 10/28/03

The Giller At 10 Canada's Giller Prize for literature is ten years old. In a short time it has gained stature as a major literary prize that has elevated Canadian writers. "This year's 10th anniversary edition of the Giller Prize will be broadcast live Tuesday in prime time on the CBC national network in addition to its regular home on Book TV, the first time it has had that level of exposure. Authors who have won the Giller have become internationally celebrated, and those on the short lists have gone from marginal to famous figures." Toronto Star 11/02/03

  • Okay, So Lit Prizes Are Useful Philip Marchand has not been a fan of literary prizes. But he has to admit: "Like it or not, our literary culture has discovered that it can't do without prizes. And the success of the Giller Prize, in this country, has been remarkable — at least success measured in terms of public awareness. How has this come to pass? One explanation is television." Toronto Star 11/02/03

Saturday, November 1

British Library To Save Web Pages The British Library is going to begin archiving websites. "The archive will comprise selective 'harvesting' from the 2.9 million sites that have 'co.uk' suffixes. This new legislation will now mean that a vital part of the nation's published heritage will be safe." BBC 11/01/03

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