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Thursday, January 29

The Least Likely Bestseller How can an obscure Victorian-era comic novel about three snobby Britishers on a boating trip possibly become a bestseller in Africa? Well, it helps if there's only one bookstore in the whole southern region of your country, and if that bookstore only stocks three titles, one of which is Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat. Welcome to southern Sudan, where civil war still rages, but one plucky bookseller soldiers on. The Economist 01/29/04

Wednesday, January 28

Handicapping The Field "To get a sense of how The New York Times plans to overhaul its Book Review, just consider the candidates to succeed Charles (Chip) McGrath as the section’s next editor. All have strong nonfiction or current-affairs backgrounds — in line with the newsier direction the Times’ top editors say they want to take the section when they make the much-anticipated appointment as soon as February." New York Observer 01/28/04

Haddon Wins Whitbread Mark Haddon has won the 2004 Whitbread Prize for his best-selling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which chronicles the life of an autistic teenager. Haddon had been considered the favorite among the authors on the shortlist, which also included DBC Pierre and Don Paterson. The Guardian (UK) 01/28/04

  • A Book With No Demographic Mark Haddon is best known as a children's author, so it's no surprise that he would choose to write his first novel with a teenager as the central character. To hear Haddon tell it, in fact, he wasn't entirely sure, at first, whether he was writing for adults at all. Regardless, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has become a major hit with adults and teens alike, and a movie deal is already in the works. BBC 01/07/04

Tuesday, January 27

Suppose Allen Iverson Reads Much? England's Hesperus Press is filling an interesting niche in the publishing world, churning out short pieces of literature which have, for one reason or another, escaped notice in the ever-expanding book universe. Some of Hesperus's releases are minor works by major authors, and some are just stuff you've never heard of, which the editors thought you might find interesting. "Maybe we should think of Hesperus titles as the Allen Iversons of literary history, little folks bursting with talent and suddenly able to dominate when allowed to play." The Chronicle of Higher Education 01/23/04

Recovery In Sight? "After a painfully slow year in the book trade, Canadian publishers are facing 2004 with cautious optimism. And, perhaps surprisingly, Indigo Books & Music is the reason. The powerful chain appears to have had a strong Christmas season, which has publishers excited. And the company, long criticized for its haphazard inventory control, is poised to introduce a new computer system that will likely solve many of the ordering and tracking problems that have plagued it in the past. Results for the crucial third quarter of Indigo's fiscal year won't be announced to shareholders till early February but publishers say Indigo... is sending out gratifyingly large payments." Toronto Star 01/27/04

Monday, January 26

Big Changes Afoot At Times Book Review When The New York Times starts to talk about monkeying around with its books section, a large sector of the publishing industry sits up and takes notice. So the rumors currently circulating have to be causing some near-aneurysms, particularly among writers, editors, and readers of fiction. The Times is planning to cut way back on the number of novels it reviews, with arts editor Steven Erlanger saying that, "To be honest, there's so much s---" in the current fiction market. Non-fiction will get the lion's share of the focus in the future, and there will be fewer straight reviews, and more coverage of the publishing industry in general, as well as a new focus on reviewing the type of "popular" books once shunned by high-minded books sections. Poynter Online 01/21/04

  • What Have They Got Against Fiction? ArtsJournal blogger Our Girl In Chicago is upset at some of the changes coming to the Times books section. "It's not as though my reading habits are going to take a big hit even if the NYTBR banishes fiction reviews from their pages altogether. Yet the blinkered reasoning proffered by [Times executive editor] Bill Keller rankles. First there's his general blithe condescension toward novels, apparently based on an assumption that while nonfiction is serious, fiction is just playing around. Even if Bill Keller really thinks this, it astonishes me that he'd say it, let alone that the Times would base editorial policy on it." About Last Night (AJ Blogs) 01/22/04

Sunday, January 25

The Next Harry Potter? The series is called His Dark Materials, and many observers have it pegged as the next global phenomenon of children's fantasy literature. But there is a more adult side to Philip Pullman's tales of fantastic adventure, and it's bound to make many adults uncomfortable: "The books make a breathtakingly subversive attack on organized religion and on the notion of an all-powerful god. The trilogy has already been criticized by church organizations alarmed at its preference for humanism and for its depiction of a cruel fictional church that is obsessed with what it regards as the sexual purity of children but blinded by its own lust for power." The New York Times 01/25/04

Henry James: The Beta Test Version Floyd Horowitz believes that he has located more than twenty examples of early writings by novelist Henry James, penned under various pseudonyms and previously unidentified as particularly Jamesian. But not everyone is convinced of the validity of Horowitz's research, especially since much of it was based on computer models which scan the word selection and literary style of unidentified works, searching for subtle connections which could link the works to a particular author. Toronto Star 01/24/04

Tuesday, January 20

National Book Critics Awards Nominees The National Book Critics Circle anounce their finalists for this year's awards. "Ninety-one-year-old Studs Terkel, the oral historian and self-described champion of the "uncelebrated," will receive a lifetime achievement prize. Competitive nominations went to two books released by McSweeney's, an irreverent publishing house founded by best-selling author Dave Eggers." Washington Post (AP) 01/20/04

Monday, January 19

The Booker's New Wrangler Member of Parliament Chris Smith is heading up this year's Book Prize jury, and he says he has no preconceptions about what the winner should demonstrate. "Cynics might argue that this absence of preconceptions is merely a spin on an absence of knowledge. After all, how much time does your average MP have to keep up with even a fraction of the 10,000 or so novels published each year? What sort of books does he have on his bedside table?" The Guardian (UK) 01/20/04

Comics Comeback "At the culmination of the so- called golden age of comics in the 1950s, an estimated 250 million to 300 million comic books sold annually, transforming this country's popular culture and becoming one of its most important exports. Even if unit sales of new comic books are down to about a third of that level, they're still averaging about $200 million in sales each year. Combined with classic or back-issue comics and graphic novels, total sales may be more than $700 million a year. Beyond the financial throw-weight of the industry, comics have as much or more impact on American popular culture than ever." Denver Post 01/19/04

Paterson Wins TS Eliot Poetry Prize "Scottish poet Don Paterson has won the prestigious TS Eliot Prize for poetry for the second time in six years. Paterson, 40, has become the first person to be awarded the Poetry Book Society honour more than once." BBC 01/19/04

Ode To A Closing Bookstore One of Melbourne's biggest bookstores is closing, and it's hard not to feel nostalgic. "Do I protest too much? Metropolis was just another place of consumption, much like a cafe or a bar or a chemist. Let's not get sanctimonious about a bookstore. Maybe my mother is right; maybe I am a literary snob. Maybe I should watch more TV, drink more Coke, get in touch with the mainstream. Who am I to say Acland Street, post-Metropolis, has gone to the dogs?" The Age (Melbourne) 01/20/04

Adventures In Self-Publishing Andy Kessler was wary. "I had been warned against self-publishing. You can't get reviews, you can't get shelf space, and you can't get respect. One hundred thousand books are published every year, so you need an imprint to stand out from the noise. Being naive, and used to being treated like Rodney Dangerfield, I decided to publish my book anyway..." OpinionJournal 01/20/04

Sunday, January 18

In Praise Of Book TV "I'm a little agog at the number of friends and acquaintances who still respond with blank looks when I start babbling about the bounty that is Book TV, even though it celebrated its fifth anniversary last fall. There is intelligent life on television, I assure them, and its name is Book TV." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 01/19/04

Ode To Emily Dickinson "Dickinson's fame has always been fed by myth. She was the virgin poetess dressed in white, the tremulous daughter who never left her father's house, the maiden who turned to art because she was thwarted in love. Hard-working biographers notwithstanding, myth often wins out." The New York Times 01/18/04

Thursday, January 15

Fringe Books For Edinburgh A writers' group in Edinburgh has announced plans for a fringe festival for books next summer. "They would aim to piggy-back on the growing success of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with its 550 authors and £7 tickets. They would offer slots to writers or poets, published or unpublished, and keep ticket prices low or non-existent." The Scotsman 01/16/04

A Poetically Difficult Year It's been a rocky year for Poetry magazine after the magazine learned it was bequeathed $100 million. "Poetry's first order of business was to form a foundation to satisfy IRS regulations. But later developments seemed not just to suggest growing pains but to hint at the old adage that money ruins everything. Joseph Parisi, who had edited Poetry for 20 years, was named executive director of publications and programs of the new Poetry Foundation in May 2003, but by summer's end, he had resigned. Then the foundation filed a lawsuit against a bank in Indiana for mismanagement of two of its trusts..." Christian Science Monitor 01/16/04

Asian American Workshop Shuts Down "Money woes forced the [New York-based] Asian American Writers' Workshop to close its doors last month. Public programs are canceled until at least the first week in February... Though AAWW has pulled in roughly $12,000 in individual donations since a November plea, the sum is only a fraction of what it needs. The $500,000 annual budget has been slashed nearly in half. Grants on which the group had relied, from charitable and arts foundations and from the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, were denied for 2004." New York Daily News 01/15/04

Wednesday, January 14

Lingua Franca Debacle A bankruptcy trustee for the erstwhile Lingua Franca magazine puts the screws to freelance writers in an attempt to get them to give back money the magazine paid them before folding. "A dead magazine putting the squeeze on its freelancers? Insiders are lamenting this sad end to the glorious saga of Lingua Franca, which tweaked higher education and popularized what is now known as the journalism of ideas. In chilly apartments around the city, freelancers are freaking out, calling lawyer friends, and wondering how they will come up with the money." Village Voice 01/12/04

  • Previously: Lingua Franca Trustee Demands Writers Return Paychecks Lingua Franca magazine folded a couple of years ago. But freelance writers for the magazine still got paid for the last stories they turned in. Now a bankruptcy trustee says he wants freelancers to return the money or he'll sue to get it back. It seems the writers were "unsecured" creditors, and the money "should" have gone to secured creditors. "It certainly seems unfair. These freelancers did the work and were paid the fees that they bargained for. They delivered what was asked of them." The New York Times 01/12/04

Nightmare On Elm Street Elm Street, a Canadian magazine aimed at women and featuring an impressive roster of writers and a broad cultural focus, has folded after seven years of publication. The failure of yet another high-quality Canadian periodical ought to be setting off warning bells, says Andrew Cohen. "We don't have the depth, consistency or quality of periodicals that a country of our size should, especially in critical areas such as foreign affairs. Then again, when you're paying writers the same rate as 20 years ago, you won't attract the best." Montreal Gazette 01/14/04

Tuesday, January 13

DiCamillo Wins Newberry "Author Kate DiCamillo has received this year's Newbery Medal for best writing in children's literature, for "The Tale of Despereaux," the story of a small mouse in love with a princess." Washington Post 01/13/04

Monday, January 12

Gerstein Wins Caldecott Medal Longtime writer and illustrator of children's books, Mordicai Gerstein, won the 2004 Caldecott Medal yesterday for "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers," his account of how Philippe Petit, the French aerialist, strode a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974." The New York Times 01/13/04

Nabokov Museum Declares It Is Broke The Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, is broke. "The museum has not been able to raise enough funds to pay the rent because its only income is from ticket sales and private donations. This income is just enough to keep the museum running and pay the salaries of its three employees." St. Petersburg Times (Russia) 01/13/04

Lingua Franca Trustee Demands Writers Return Paychecks Lingua Franca magazine folded a couple of years ago. But freelance writers for the magazine still got paid for the last stories they turned in. Now a bankruptcy trustee says he wants freelancers to return the money or he'll sue to get it back. It seems the writers were "unsecured" creditors, and the money "should" have gone to secured creditors. "It certainly seems unfair. These freelancers did the work and were paid the fees that they bargained for. They delivered what was asked of them." The New York Times 01/12/04

Poetry Popularity - It's A More "Personal" Art Poetry seems to be getting more and more popular around America. "An incredible immediacy takes place between the poet and the audience, or even in reading a book of poetry, that doesn’t exist in other parts of our culture. In other places, we’re numbers, not individuals. This group of people will like this movie. They’re aiming this radio station at that demographic. I think there’s a great hunger in this country for a more personal art." Sacramento Bee 01/11/04

Sunday, January 11

The Art Of Bilingual Writing "The tradition of literati who live and work in more than one language dates back to antiquity, but today we tend to think of 20th-century examples as most prominent: Joseph Conrad emigrating from Polish to English, Samuel Beckett morphing from English to French, Vladimir Nabokov ardently abandoning Russian for "Ada" (and "Lolita") in English. More recently, Russian-born Andrei Makine, winner of many laurels for his fiction in French, and Ha Jin, the Chinese-born author who won the National Book Award for "Waiting"... Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (KR) 01/11/04

Do Titles Matter? The title makes the book. Who even wants to crack the cover of a book with a dull title? So how do you come up with a winning title that will make the cash regsisters sing? The Age (Melbourne) 01/10/04

Saturday, January 10

The World's Largest Book The world's largest book has been published. It's a book of photographs of the kingdom of Bhutan. "Opening to 1.5 by 2 metres and weighing more than 60 kilograms, the book is so big it needs its own Sherpa. The price? A cool $10,000 (U.S.), 17 times what the average Bhutanese earns in a year, although the books only cost $1,000 each to produce, with the remaining $9,000 benefiting the Bhutanese ministry of education as a charitable donation." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 01/10/04

On The Trail Of An Elusive Translation The Voynich manuscript, once owned by Emperor Rudolph II in 16th-century Bohemia, is filled with drawings of fantastic plants, zodiacal symbols and naked ladies. Far more intriguing than its illustrations, however, is the accompanying text: 234 pages of beautifully formed, yet completely unintelligible script. Modern scholars have pored over the book since 1912, when Wilfrid Voynich, an American antiquarian, bought the manuscript and started circulating copies in the hope of having it translated. Some 90 years later, the book still defies deciphering." Now a computer scientist thinks he might have an answer. The Economist 01/09/04

Thursday, January 8

Hughes To Run Paris Review "Four months after the death of George Plimpton, the Paris Review announced yesterday that interim editor Brigid Hughes will permanently run the literary quarterly... Hughes, 30, takes on a role that Plimpton, who died in September at 76, assumed with tireless enthusiasm for half a century. In deference to Plimpton, his official title - editor - will not be filled. Hughes has the newly established title of executive editor." Philadelphia Inquirer (AP) 01/08/04

The Rebirth Of Mutanabi Street Baghdad's Mutanabi Street has, for centuries, been one of the centers of Iraqi intellectual life, as reflected in the avenue's bookshops. Dissidents, professors, religious clerics, and ordinary Iraqis gathered together at Mutanabi's open-air book marts to trade ideas and debate philosophy. "In the 1970s, Saddam Hussein crushed intellectual life, forcing Mutanabi Street's alternative ideas and books underground. Secret police informants infested the cafe tables, ready to overhear whispers of dissent. But six months after the U.S. occupation, Mutanabi is again in ferment." Newsday 01/07/04

Wednesday, January 7

Keep That "Gay Stuff" Away From The Kids! Even as gay culture continues to become more mainstream in American society, the crusades of "family-friendly" organizations to keep such themes away from children are gathering steam. In recent years, a number of children's books have dealt with gay themes, either directly or indirectly, in an effort to find factual, non-threatening ways to introduce the subject to kids who might otherwise grow up with the same prejudices as past generations. But the authors of such books are finding that they are a tough sell to librarians, who are afraid of the backlash from right-wing pressure groups. St. Paul Pioneer Press (LA Times) 01/07/04

Whitbread Finalists Announced The Whitbread Prize for Book of the Year won't be announced until the end of the month, but the list of finalists (one winner in each of the Whitbread's sub-categories) is out. DBC Pierre won Best Debut Novel for his biting satire of Texan/American culture, Vernon God Little, and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was named Best Novel. A detailed portrait of George Orwell won the biography category, and the children's book prize went to David Almond for his story, The Fire-Eaters, "a tale set in Newcastle at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis." BBC 01/06/04

Tuesday, January 6

Time For A Colon-ectomy "Over the last two decades, academic titles have become increasingly cumbersome, and it is rare to find an academic book title that is not lashed together with a subtitle and its colon. Some books even boast two subtitles, glued tenuously to the title with two colons. 'We joke about the title and the subtitle needing colonoscopies. People have gone hog-wild with colons'." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/06/04

Scotland: Land Of Publishing Opportunity Sensing opportunity, the big English publisher Hodder Headline opens a house in Scotland. The company’s move to Scotland was "partly inspired by the huge success of both Edinburgh publisher Canongate, whose Life of Pi won the Booker Prize, and the success of the best-selling Edinburgh author, Alexander McCall Smith." Plans are to seek out and promote new Scottish authors. The Scotsman 01/06/04

Indian Mob Destroys Ancient Manuscripts "An Indian mob has destroyed 30,000 ancient manuscripts and rioted in retaliation for Oxford University Press publishing a book about a Hindu king. The incident was sparked by an allegedly objectionable observations by author and teacher James Laine in a book on the parentage of Maratha warrior king Shivaji." Ananova 01/06/04

Monday, January 5

Publishing Where Books Are Fun How did a company named after a Marx Brothers movie get to be the biggest publisher in Canada? "The company was really based on whimsy. We would publish or distribute what we wanted to and what sometimes gave us a laugh and sometimes seemed clever or worthwhile. The Marx Brothers were always able to do that, they did everything on their own terms, but were always whimsical and funny. And we continue to do that." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 01/05/04

Subway Rap - Finding A Publisher On The A Train Heru Ptah, 23, didn't have a publisher for his book, so he took to the New York subway, selling copies at $10 a pop. Then MTV Books bought the book and sold another 25,000... The New York Times 01/06/03

Literature - A Battle For Hearts And Minds "On the streets of Washington and across America, a war is being waged between popular novels and literary fiction. In this increasingly aliterate society - acrawl with people who can read but don't - the battle for readers is a high-stakes campaign." Publishers - and writers - are caught up in definitions of literary success... Washington Post 01/05/04

Sunday, January 4

Paris Review's New Editor When George Plimpton died last fall, many feared that the Paris Review, which Plimpton founded and edited, might not survive. But "now, after two months of soul-searching and rallying-round, The Paris Reviewintends to name a new editor next week. She is Brigid Hughes, the current managing editor." New York Observer 12/31/03

Why sorting Out Your Semis From Your Colons Why did Lynne Truss's book on punctuation become such a major hit in the UK? "Among the legions of the surprised are the executives at her publishing house, Profile Books, who ordered a modest initial printing of 15,000 books, but now have 510,000 in print; and Ms. Truss's friends and family." But why is it such a phenomenon? "Maybe Ms. Truss has indeed touched a nerve of latent pedantry in a world in which, as she writes, increasing numbers of people 'don't know their apostrophe from their elbow'." The New York Times 01/05/04

Scotland's Closed Door To The Rest Of The (Literary) World "In the heydey of Scottish literary openness – the early to mid-nineteenth century – there was eager reciprocity between nations with, say, Walter Scott producing the first English translation of Goethe, along with other German ballads, and German literature in turn being influenced by Scott's own fiction." Sadly, that's no longer true, and it's very difficult to find translated literature on Scottish shelves. The Herald(Glasgow) 01/04/04

The Art Of Literary Personals "Just over five years ago, the London Review of Books began running personal advertisements, in the hope they would provide a platform for like-minded people to find love, or sex, or at least a suitable reading group. One might have expected the advertisements to be more literary and erudite than the norm, but no one was quite prepared for the first ad... Today, the back page of this learned journal is a compulsive read, a bizarre and often hilarious competition in wit and intellect and flat-out perversity." Sydney Morning Herald 01/04/04

The Hottest Thing In Downloads - Books "Download fever sweeps the nation, audio stores are the hottest thing on the Internet, and this week's hottest track is ... 'Hegemony or Survival,' by Noam Chomsky? That's right. The killa, must-have MP3 is thrown down by an MIT linguistics professor, at least if you spend time in the expanding universe of downloaded audiobooks." Denver Post 01/04/04

Found Objects - Poetry From Spam Artists have always used materials at hand for their work. Now, "a few bold souls are trying to fashion art from electronic found objects. Their battle cry: From spam, poetry. Taking phrases from the deluge of junk mail as their raw material, they assemble the verbal detritus into poems." Boston Globe Magazine 01/04/04

The Fan Fiction Phenom Fiction written by fans of already-existing literary characters is now a major phenomenon. "Despite a threat of legal notices and continued aloofness by the more upright literary community, this work is flourishing. Harry Potter-inspired fiction has even given rise to its own stars, some of whom rival Rowlings's own talent for rococo prose and colossal word count. These exuberant HP writers are the latest heirs to a literary tradition known as fan fiction, or fanfic. The genre is staffed by fans of a specific book, television show or movie. Using established characters and surroundings, writers arm themselves with a healthy sense of creative entitlement and let it rip." The Age (Melbourne) 01/05/04

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