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Sunday, June 27

Complex Ideas Made Child-like "It is invigorating to see adults make complex ideas available to children. But there is a less welcome, regressive trend in evidence, too - authors who hijack children's literature to make their work more cosy." The Observer (UK) 06/27/04

English Writers' Group Caught Up In Free Expression Dispute "English PEN, the writers' organisation dedicated to freedom of expression and the support of persecuted writers, is caught up in an in-house row over freedom of expression." The Guardian (UK) 06/26/04

Thursday, June 24

From The Words Of The Dead "You don't have to be personally involved or angry to notice how often dead writers' words are lifted and put in the mouths of their novelized selves today. Their lives and ideas have been borrowed, even more insidiously than they are on screen, in three novels about Henry James, one about his brother William and two about Sylvia Plath." The New York Times 06/25/04

UK Libraries Get A Bandaid The British government allocates £2 million more for public libraries. But critics aren't happy. "The money will do nothing to restore the value of book budgets or improve drab buildings, two factors often seen as being central to libraries' falling popularity over the past 20 years. One report forecasts they will cease to exist in a further 20 if trends continue." The Guardian (UK) 06/25/04

Clinton Book Sets Non-Fiction Sales Record "Clinton's My Life sold more than 400,000 copies in the United States in its first day of release, the most ever for a nonfiction book and double the believed previous record holder, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Living History." Chicago Sun-Times (AP) 06/24/04

Wednesday, June 23

BC: Getting Magazined-Up The magazine business is booming in British Columbia, and several new magazines have international aspirations. "In the past two years, more than a dozen new titles have emerged, with a particularly strong showing from a new generation of edgy arts-and-culture magazines." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/23/04

Tuesday, June 22

Can't Get Enough Of That Clinton Sound Audio versions of books usually account for 8-10 percent of a book's sales. But Bill Clinton's audio version is likely to double that. "My Life has a first printing of 1.5 million books. There are 350,000 copies of the audiobook. Yesterday the "My Life" CD was the No. 7 best-selling title among all books at Barnesandnoble.com and No. 8 at Amazon.com (the cassette audiobook was in the mid-20s on both sites). 'It is accurate to say this is the largest adult audiobook release in both sheer numbers and anticipation'." Boston Globe 06/22/04

Monday, June 21

Correcting The Punctuation Book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” present itself as a call to arms, in a world spinning rapidly into subliteracy, by a hip yet unapologetic curmudgeon, a stickler for the rules of writing. But it’s hard to fend off th suspicion that the whole thing might be a hoax." So Louis Menand takes a blue pencil to the book and finds plenty to circle. The New Yorker 06/21/04

Sunday, June 20

Pissing Off Peck Literary critic Dale Peck is "not just out to piss people off. He's on a one-man crusade to save fiction writers from their worst tendencies, and to save readers from believing the lionized postmodern likes of Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon are worth the paper they're printed on, either." Chicago Sun-Times 06/20/04

Thursday, June 17

Does Joyce Really Matter? James Joyce is more than the author of what many academic types call the greatest novel of the 20th century. He is, or so we have been told for ages, the father of the literary modernist movement. But since most modern writers don't have a lot of use for modernism these days, is Joyce becoming similarly irrelevant? Authors Jim Lewis and Jeffrey Eugenides have some thoughts on the subject. Slate 06/17/04

Moroccan Novel Wins Dublin Prize "Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun has won one of the world's richest literature prizes. Ben Jelloun's novel, This Blinding Absence of Light, won the 100,000 euro [$120,000] International Impac Dublin Literary Award 2004, on Thursday. The prize is the biggest for a single work of fiction in English." BBC 06/17/04

Singer Celebration (And A Little Dissent) July marks the 100th anniversary of Isaac Bashevis Singer's birth. The novelist and short-story writer was the only Yiddish author to win a Nobel Prize in Literature (in 1978). "Throughout the summer and fall, media and cultural centers all over the country will devote time and energy to celebrating Singer, one of the most famous Jewish writers of all time." But not everyone is applauding... The New York Times 06/17/04

Newt Gingrich, Super-Reviewer Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has been "leading a secret life. Night after night for years he's been slipping out of the headquarters of the vast right-wing conspiracy, wolfing down spy novels and then reviewing them for Amazon.com. So prolific and proficient has he been at this pursuit that he has attained the coveted title Amazon Top 500 Reviewer. Newt is number 488." Weekly Standard 06/17/04

Wednesday, June 16

Understanding Ulysses (Sort Of) The Ulysses anniversary brings up some conflicted feelings about the James book, often considered the greatest book ever written. "There are still those in Dublin who neither like nor understand James Joyce. And there are others who are offended by the way a city which once rejected Joyce now uses him and his work to attract tourist dollars." NPR 06/16/04

Happy Bloomsday, But Not In Ireland It's June 16, Bloomsday, and that means that James Joyce fanatics all over the world will be holding public readings from Ulysses and enjoying a drop of Irish whiskey in memory of the novel's protagonist. But in Ireland, where the novel is set and where Joyce grew up, old wounds have yet to fully heal, and while the country has moved on from the days when it denounced its native son as anti-Catholic, pornographic, and "spiritually offensive," but the Joyce family has never quite gotten over Ireland's direct snub of one of the great authors of the 20th century. Chicago Tribune 06/16/04

Adelman Turns Down Foreign Affairs When Kenneth Maxwell resigned as book editor at Foreign Affairs in mid-May, accusations flew that his departure was the direct result of a strong-arm move by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who had objected to Maxwell's review of a book about the rise of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Now, Maxwell's chosen successor, Princeton professor Jeremy Adelman, has announced that he will not accept the post, having been disgusted with the treatment of Maxwell by the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes Foreign Affairs. The New York Times 06/16/04

Is Amazon Peddling Pro-Pedophilia Propaganda? A Seattle-area publisher of sailing books has pulled his stock from Amazon.com in protest of the online retailer's refusal to stop selling a book which directly makes the case for sexual relationships between men and prepubescent boys. Amazon says that while the book is clearly reprehensible (and the site's in-house reviewer says as much,) it is not a pornographic work, and the retailer insists that it will not get into the censorship business. Seattle Post-Intelligencer 06/08/04

Tuesday, June 15

McSweeney's Goes Seriously Comic The latest issue of Dave Eggers's McSweeney's has been given over to comic art legend Chris Ware, who uses the occasion to take readers who ordinarily might not give comic art a second thought on a tour of the modern scene. "Ware's curatorial tastes are generally quite broad... Even so, you can see his particular selectivity in the McSweeney's picks. Ware prefers minimal, iconic, impressionistic drawing to the more deliberate rendering of the European school ("Blacksad" artist Juanjo Guarnido, say), and his introduction is quick to dismiss the comics aesthetic that's grounded in old superhero comic books." City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul) 06/16/04

First-Time Author Wins BBC Book Prize "Debut author Anna Funder has won the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for her book about the hardships endured by people from the former East Germany. The book, titled Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall, earned Funder £30,000 in prize money." The Samuel Johnson Prize is now in its sixth year of recognizing non-fiction works of all varieties, from travel writing to biography to the arts. BBC 06/15/04

Monday, June 14

Four Pulitzers Gets You... Layoffs By any journalistic measure, the Los Angeles Times is flying high these days. One sign of its improvement are the four Pulitzers it won this year. So why is the paper cutting back and laying off staff? Is it losing money? Nope. It seems that the paper's 26 percent profit margin - 26 percent! - isn't high enough to keep the Tribune Company (the LAT's owner) stock rising on Wall Street... The New York Times 06/14/04

Martel: Life After The Booker When Yann Martel won the Booker Prize, the glare of public attention was blinding. So what comes next in the career? "I could be a one-hit wonder and that's it. I'll be known as, 'Remember that guy who wrote Life of Pi, about that boy in the lifeboat with his tiger?' You know, William Golding, his entire career suffered from the enormous success of Lord of the Flies and everything else took a long, long time." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/14/04

The Little Literary Magazine That Could "Border Crossings" is a tiny literary and arts publication produced in Winnipeg with a staff of two. It has only 5,500 subscribers, but its reputation is huge. And now, "after 23 years of guiding readers through the maelstrom of modern arts and culture, Border Crossings has earned one of the highest honours in the Canadian magazine world: the President's Medal conferred by the National Magazine Awards Foundation." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/14/04

Is Joyce Really Worth All The Fuss? So why all the fuss about celebrating the 100th anniversary of the events in James Joyce's Ulyses? "This mass devotion to James Joyce is a fine example of a spreading trend in tourism in which a dead author becomes a lure for living admirers and the merely curious." The Economist 06/11/04

Sunday, June 13

Bloomsday Without Blooms? Bloomsday, the annual June celebration of James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, is always a big occasion in Dublin, where the novel takes place. This year, the 100th anniversary of the day detailed in the book, is expected to be a massive party. But a central theme of Leopold Bloom's character is his Jewishness, and one can't help but notice that the number of Jews in Dublin has been dwindling for decades. In fact, there are less than 2,000 left in the entire city. The New York Times Magazine 06/13/04

An Author Ungagged Alice Randall, the author of The Wind Done Gone (the Gone With The Wind parody which the Margaret Mitchell estate tried to stifle) hasn’t been able to talk about her battle to get the novel published, thanks to orders from her own publisher’s legal team. But Randall has a new book out, and with the controversy well behind her, she’s finally speaking out. “A lot of older black people experienced it as a black voice being silenced. It was an intellectual awakening for me that the copyright act can be used for censorship.” Boston Globe 06/12/04

Friday, June 11

Celebrating Joyce. Or Just Sitting Around Drinking. Whichever. The fellas who make up Denver's James Joyce Reading Society are devoted to the author's work. But they're also quite devoted to Guinness beer, Irish whiskey, and talking politics, so you'll excuse them if they don't always get around to the reading. Of course, Joyce would probably approve of such meandering loyalty, and as the 100th anniversary of the date that was the setting of Ulysses approaches, the Bloomsday revelries are set to begin not only in Denver, but in 60 countries worldwide. Denver Post 06/11/04

Thursday, June 10

Lost In Translation Would government subsidies for publishers help more translated books to appear on American bookshelves? John O'Brien doesn't think so: "On average, a very good novel from another country will sell fifty percent fewer copies in the United States than a rather mediocre novel written by an American... I doubt that we can expect foundations to lead the way in an effort to support translations by working with nonprofit presses; however, what would be interesting to speculate on is whether the NEA couldn’t enlist foundations in this country in a joint undertaking with government agencies in other countries to create a fund for translations that would take into account all of the publication expenses rather than just the cost of the translations. CONTEXT 06/04

  • Laziness or Xenophobia? What has caused the dropoff in translations in the English-speaking literary world? It surely has something to do with the pervasiveness of English around the globe, but Eric Dickens fears that a "selective xenophobia" may have crept into even enlightened minds in the UK and US. "United States power and prestige prop up the English language internationally; and yet English is only the mother tongue of a relatively modest number of people worldwide. Translation obviates the necessity of people having to write badly in English when they can be writing well in their respective mother tongues." CONTEXT 06/04

Wednesday, June 9

Levy Wins Orange Prize "In one of the biggest literary upsets for some years, a previously low-rated novel last night scooped the £30,000 Orange prize for fiction. After a hard-fought final round, judges gave the women-only award to Andrea Levy's Small Island, a comedy about the punctured illusions, tribulations and spry adaptability of the pioneer Windrush generation of immigrants to Britain in the early 1950s." The Guardian (UK) 06/09/04

  • Judging A Lit Prize - Exhausting Judging a literary prize such as the Orange requires great feats of endurance from judges. "I left the meeting slightly hysterical, convinced that there was no way I would ever finish these novels - 46 in six weeks in the first batch, although I would read 71 in total - and certain that my swotty fellow judges would. So at 2am that night I realised I needed to make a schedule. Weekends were best - say, six novels - and then a couple in the week, in the odd spare evenings or on the bus. This was the exact opposite of the languorous pleasure I usually take from reading, and the intensity had consequences." The Guardian (UK) 06/09/04

How An Ancient "Unreadable" Book Becomes A Bestseller Two friends took "an unreadable book, written more than a half-millennium ago in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldean" and rewrote it, modernizing the plot. Voila - the thriller turns into an instant bestseller... The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/09/04

Tuesday, June 8

Surviving Books In A Time Of TV "So what is the future for fiction if a hardcore of the population are joining the illiterati? While the written word can be credited with liberating the sight and consciousness of the emerging working-class in the 19th and 20th centuries, the explosion in new media has challenged that role." The Scotsman 06/08/04

In Search Of Book Buzz How do you generate buzz for your book among the crowd of 100,000 books that are produced each year? "At the meeting that ended Sunday in Chicago, the talk turned often to what it takes to snag media attention and, therefore, new readers in a market shaped by politics and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. In short, political books have been gold for more than a year, and more are on the way." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 06/07/04

Romano At BookExpo: A Report A visit to the annual BookExpo in Chicago is an opportunity to see what the buzz in the outside world is (and is going to be) says Carlin Romano. This year's event (attended by 10,000 book people) was a reflection of politics and issues beyond the convention center. Philadelphia Inquirer 06/08/04

Monday, June 7

The Business End Of Being A Bestseller Azar Nafisi, 54, has a book on the bestseller list. Now she's "learning the pitfalls and conundrums of playing the fame game in her adopted country as she contends with her corporate handlers, her book club fans and jealous former countrymen. "I thought I can live with the snide remarks: `Look at her wanting to become a celebrity, yada yada,' " she said. "That is not pleasant, but you can live with it. But one thing I can't live with, which I would criticize, is to be in competition with my book. A writer should allow the work to speak for itself." The New York Times 06/08/04

The End Of Seattle BookFest Why did Seattle's BookFest festival bite the dust? "The argument over what Bookfest could have done better is now hypothetical, but what no one seems exactly ready to admit is that if recent festivals had been better and more accessible (and more interesting), they would have drawn more paying vendors and more paying attendees, and the finances would likely have fallen into place. Financial instability, dwindling attendance, the remoteness of the Sand Point venue, and increasing criticism about the quality of the festival are among the problems that have plagued Bookfest in recent years." The Stranger 06/03/04

UK's Most-Loved Contemporary Books At the Hay Literary Festival, "the women-only Orange prize for fiction set out to discover the British public's most cherished contemporary novels - and found that 58% were by men. But organisers said this margin was smaller than it would have been before the prize was founded to promote writing by women eight years ago." The Guardian (UK) 06/07/04

BookExpo: Publishing By The Numbers How is the publishing industry doing? Take a look at the numbers: "During Expo, the Association of American Publishers announced that sales of consumer books were up 6.3 percent. Religious publishing rose a stunning 37 percent. E-books grew 45 percent, though, the Association noted, that was from a tiny beginning base. E-books are never returned, while mass-market books were returned at a rate of 41 percent of sales." Chicago Tribune 06/07/04

Sunday, June 6

It's Back: That Old Oprah Magic Oprah's new book club features classics (dead authors). But her selections are making the bestseller list, and along with them, the translators. "Though Tolstoy is not around to experience the thrill of becoming an overnight sensation, the elation is beginning to sink in for Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the husband-and-wife team whose translation of that Tolstoy classic love story was selected by Ms. Winfrey as the definitive version for the millions who watch The Oprah Winfrey Show." The New York Times 06/07/04

The Illiad In 32 Lines Of Text Msg The "translation of the first five of the 24 Iliad books condenses 37,000 words to 32 lines of mobile telephone text message language, with sad and smiley faces and love hearts. In book three, a duel between Paris and Menelaus to determine possession of Helen, is reduced to: "Paris went 2 fight Menelaus. But he was wiv fright. Hector told im 2 b a man. Shame on him! Helen went 2 watch from da walls." Sydney Morning Herald 06/06/04

Next Generation's Most Exciting Poets The Arts Council and the Poetry Book Society have named the 20 most exciting young poets in the UK. "More than one-and-a-half million volumes of poetry were sold in Britain last year, yet nine out of every 10 volumes sold are by dead authors." BBC 06/05/04

  • Our Next Poets A list and profiles of the UK's Next Generation poets. The Guardian (UK) 06/05/04

Friday, June 4

Romano Vs. Peck At BookExpo Is literary criticism getting too nasty? That was the topic at BookExpo in Chicago. "It seemed debatable -- at least as many people seem to think that literary critics are more often too kind, or at least too polite, than not -- but that didn't stop one prominent book critic from bashing another's brains in, figuratively speaking, for being too negative." Critic Carlin Romano and Dale Peck sparred, with Roman railing at length against what he called Peck's "savagery" and "shrieking denunciations," dismissing his work as "performance art." Chicago Sun-Times 06/04/04

Thursday, June 3

Chicago's Literary Elite Who are the 50 people who make Chicago a great literary place? NewCityChicago made a list: "On this year's list we have a living legend, the Nobel Prize winner for literature, a literary card shark, last year's publishing Cinderella story, rock 'n' roll poets, Hef's chronicler and more." NewCityChicago 06/02/04

Irish MPs Legislate Joyce Exhibition "Stephen Joyce, the highly litigious grandson of Ireland's greatest writer, James Joyce, has devoted his life to fiercely protecting his grandfather's copyright, setting his lawyers on those foolhardy enough to take the Joyce name in vain or to reproduce Joyce's words without consent. But now, fearful for this month's mammoth celebrations of Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, Irish MPs yesterday rushed through emergency legislation which will prevent Mr Joyce from suing the government and the National Library over an exhibition which displays 500 pages of Joyce manuscripts." The Guardian (UK) 06/03/04

Tolkien In The Academy "The decades-old dispute over whether Tolkien's work counts as serious literature is still alive. So are the debates over how to interpret the cultural politics of his imaginary world. But even before the author's death, in 1973, some readers were beginning to wonder about a different set of questions: how to understand the relationship between Tolkien's storytelling and his scholarship." Chronicle of Higher Education 06/03/04

Rare Book Specialist To Take On Amazon "A hugely popular Canadian Web site that links buyers looking for rare books to 12,000 antiquarian booksellers worldwide, will announce tomorrow at Book Expo in Chicago that it is opening its Internet platform to authors, publishers and bookstores selling new books. About 20,000 books sell daily through ABEbooks.com, which also has English, French and German sites... Customers can access over 50 million titles on ABEbooks.com and the company projects that a third of its business will be in new books within three years, offering strong competition to Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.ca." Toronto Star 06/03/04

Wednesday, June 2

When Good Readings Go Wrong The author reading seems perilously ripe for disaster. Why? "The world of letters" seems "to offer a near perfect microclimate for embarrassment and shame …. Something about the presentation of deeply private thoughts—carefully worked and honed into art over the years—to a public audience of strangers … strays perilously close to tragedy."
New York Observer 06/02/04

Is James Wood Our Geatest Critic? "Mr. Wood is recklessly committed to literature (if he weren’t so flexible, I’d be tempted to call him a fanatic), and brave enough to risk ridicule by pushing every thought to the limit. Caution doesn’t enter into the calculation: He shows us, candidly—in prose overcrowded with metaphor, prose that palpably yearns for maximum expression—how his head and heart respond to what he reads (which is just about everything). He’s growing before our eyes. It’s perhaps his most impressive quality." New York Observer 06/02/04

Finishing A Book From Beyond "The mid-project death or enfeeblement of an author is one of the stranger crucibles a publisher must face. Unlike more collaborative art forms, a piece of writing bears a highly individual style, making it hard for others to complete a book without it seeming choppy or fraudulent. Nor can a company release a book's fragment the way it might a CD; a piece of writing more than most creative efforts is an integrated whole and immune to such partialness. Yet creative legacy (if not commercial imperative) demands that a publisher find a way to get the book out--whether by hook, crook or séance." OpinionJournal.com 06/03/04

Booker Goes Global "The organisers of the Booker Prize for Fiction have launched a new £60,000 international literature award. The Man Booker International Prize will be handed out every two years from the middle of 2005... The existing Booker Prize is open to citizens of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. The new global prize can be won by an author of any nationality, providing his or her work is available in the English language." BBC 06/02/04

Tuesday, June 1

Town Offers Bounty To Bookstore "In an ever-tougher business environment for independent booksellers, the town of St. Johnsbury, Mass., population 7,571 as of 2000, is offering startup money and a break on rent to a qualified person willing to open a bookstore downtown. The word is out in the book trade, and St. Johnsbury officials say calls are coming in." Boston Globe 06/01/04

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