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Thursday, March 31

A Golden Age Of Kid Lit? We're in a Golden Age of children's literature. "What does it mean to call a specific period of literary endeavour 'golden', without it being mere hype? What it doesn't necessarily mean is a golden age as accountants might understand the term. Publishers mutter gloomily that while there are a huge number of children's books out there, there hasn't actually been a rise in the number of authors selling books. The market share for children's literature is stuck at 15%. What is happening is that a few (a very few) children's authors are selling loads; the names you know already - JK Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, Philip Pullman." The Guardian (UK) 03/31/05

Canadians - A Book-Buying People A new report on book-buying habits in Canada "shows that 48 per cent of all Canadian households bought books, spending a total of $1.1 billion on them. Though a greater percentage of Canadian households spent money on newspapers (63 per cent) and movies (61 per cent), the total amount spent on each category was similar to that spent on books: overall spending on newspapers and movies amounted to $1.2 billion each. By comparison, Canadians spent $451 million on live sporting events. CBC 03/31/05

Acclaimed Canadian Publisher Downsizes In Attempt To Survive One of Canada's acclaimed small presses The Porcupine Quill, says it is radically downsizing in order to survive. The imprint blames book giant Indigo. "The press typically takes in $350,000 a year, $150,000 in sales and the remainder in public support, 'but sales are dropping like a rock'. He blames the policies and practices of Indigo Books & Music Inc., the nation's largest bookseller. He says that last year Indigo cut its orders dramatically, ordering only 2,797 units of his press's 11-book list, which included critical favourites So Beautiful by Ramona Dearing and Emma's Hands by Mary Swan. Meanwhile, Indigo's returns of unsold books were 1,415, more than 50 per cent of its order. By comparison, in 1998, Indigo and Chapters (absorbed by Indigo in 2001) ordered 13,293 copies of the press's books and returned 4,052, or less than 30 per cent." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/31/05

Author Rejected By Publishers, Goes Publish-On-Demand Route, Gets Nominated For Orange Prize Patricia Ferguson was puzzled when she couldn't get a publisher for her new book, especially since she had a good track record. Eventually she signed on with a tiny publish-on-demand business. "After a slow start and a couple of favourable reviews, the book, It So Happens, takes off. At first the author and publisher are bemused at the sudden influx of orders. All becomes clear when the author, reading her daily newspaper, comes across a feature on the Orange Prize longlist - and discovers to her amazement, that she has made the grade." The Independent (UK) 03/31/05

Foetry: Of Lotteries And Poetry Contests The Foetry website has been on a mission to expose conflicts of interest in poetry competitions. But if a poetry competition judge awards prizes to former students and colleagues, does that really prove bias? "They haven't proved manipulation per se, by producing a smoking gun. But if you are running a big state lottery like Powerball, how does it look if the buddy of the Powerball operator keeps winning the big prize? Maybe it was just a random drawing, but it sure looks funny." Boston Globe 03/31/05

Wednesday, March 30

Harry Publisher looks For Great Year "Bloomsbury, the publisher of Harry Potter, today said it expects to make a £20m profit this year based on strong advanced orders of the latest instalment in the adventures of the boy wizard." The Guardian (UK) 03/31/05

Will McEwan Be Allowed Back In US? Ian McEwan has a new book. It's a hit. But he wonders if he'll be allowed into the US to promote it. "McEwan's diplomatic woes began a year ago when U.S. officials turned him away from entering the country in error. But that error has remained on the books to haunt him still. 'Once you have been refused entry to the States, you go into the computer and you are regarded with suspicion. It is a matter of enormous irritation. I only got in this time by the skin of my teeth. This could well be the very last time I ever get in'." Yahoo! (Reuters) 03/30/05

Levy Wins Commonwealth Writers Prize "Author Andrea Levy has won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Small Island, her novel about West Indian immigrants in postwar London. It is the third major literary prize for the best-selling book, which also took the Orange Prize and the Whitbread." CBC 03/30/05

Prolific Freelancers Could Get $100,000 From Settlement The class action award to freelancers this week for violating electronic copyright could result in big payouts. "Besides Lexis Nexis, database companies involved include Proquest, Dow Jones and West Group—as well as The Times, whose online archives include more than 100,000 articles written by some 27,000 freelance writers. The Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune are also liable on the print-publishing side, joining publishers including Time Inc., the Washington Post Company and the Hearst Corporation." New York Observer 03/30/05

Tuesday, March 29

Why All The Boring Memoirs? "Some blame reality TV for our social woes (MTV's "Real World" encourages alcoholism, "The Apprentice" is a guide to corporate backstabbing, blah, blah, blah). Allow me to chime in and add my voice to the chorus: Reality television, in part, intensifies our voyeuristic appetite for the tawdry details of the lives of others. On television, we call those details trash (although suit-wearing executives at TV stations call them "rating boosters"). But in book form, it's more likely to be deemed literature." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 03/30/05

Freelance Writers Win Big Online Settlement Free lance writers win a $10 million-$18 million award to compensate for work that has been posted online. "Plaintiffs, who filed on behalf of thousands of freelance writers, included the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild, the National Writers Union and almost two dozen freelance writers. Under the terms of the settlement, freelance writers who had work published between August 1977 and December 2002 will be eligible to fill out a form -- online or by mail -- that will entitle them to money for works to which they had not signed away their rights to electronic publication." Wired 03/29/04

Havel Writes Again Former Czech president Vaclav Havel says he's returning to writing. "The 68-year-old has said he is planning to write an autobiograhy and a play based on Shakespeare's King Lear. He has also talked about publishing a book of conversations with friends." BBC 03/26/05

Monday, March 28

The Poet Of Melbourne "The idea of being a career poet is an odd one to most of us - writing poetry doesn't pay, for a start - but it implies someone who is out there seeking publication and renown, and respect from one's peers. Kris Hemensley doesn't seek such things. And yet he's been writing seriously and steadily for 40 years, his work is held in very high regard, and he has arguably done more for poetry than anyone else in Melbourne." The Age (Melbourne) 03/28/05

Foetry: Exposed In Public "Foetry.com launched on April 1st of 2004 to expose the status quo in American poetry publication: many books published are winners of contests that are often large–scale fraud operations. Judges select their friends, students, and lovers from pools of manuscripts numbering in the hundreds or thousands, accompanied by an entry fee, usually around $20–$25. Some of the competitions are sponsored by university presses. As soon as Foetry.com was launched, the defenses began." MobyLives 03/28/05

Sunday, March 27

Where Are Those Trivial Books? "In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf wrote of the necessity of writing that covers all aspects of our lives, and of women, in particular, making the subject of what they know an honourable and serious one: 'I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial'. Where are these books now, that hesitate at 'no subject however trivial'? Despite the burgeoning interest in houses, gardens and cooking on television, in non-fiction and a certain kind of popular novel, in literature it seems we continue to gloss over the significance of home." The Guardian (UK) 03/26/05

N. Ireland Arts Mag Cut From Gov't Grant Rolls "Have you heard the one about the magazine that has been promoting arts and culture in Northern Ireland for more than 30 years but no longer gets a grant from the Arts Council of... er, Northern Ireland? This is not the beginning of some in-house south Belfast joke but sums up the current predicament of Fortnight magazine, the arts, culture and politics review that has been covering life in the Troubles-torn north of Ireland since the early 1970s." The Observer (UK) 03/27/05

Thursday, March 24

Every Life's Worth A Story... (But Do You Have To Publish It?) "The memoir has been on the march for more than a decade now. Readers have long since gotten used to the idea that you do not have to be a statesman or a military commander - or, like Saint-Simon or Chateaubriand, a witness to great events - to commit your life to print. But the genre has become so inclusive that it's almost impossible to imagine which life experiences do not qualify as memoir material." The New York Times 03/25/05

The Stupidity Of Women's Writing (Whatever That Is) "There is no such thing as Women's Writing. Just as there is no such thing as Left-Handed Writing, Red-Headed Writing, European Writing, Northern Hemisphere Writing, or Writing from the Planet Earth. All of these categories are so large as to be meaningless. Sadly, Women's Writing is the only one of the above repeatedly used as a stick to beat women who write. Either Women's Writing is fluffy and inconsequential, full of romps and buttocks - or Women's Writing is coarse and aggressive and the kind of muck you'd expect from an off-duty stripper in a strop - or Women's Writing is obsessed with plumbing and bleeding and bonding to whale music. Effectively, Women's Writing is whatever has most annoyed any given journalist, commentator, academic, or author in the past few books by women they've read." The Guardian (UK) 03/25/05

China Bans Sexy Mao Novel Chinese censors have banned a racy novel and pulled it from book shelves. "The novella, Serve the People - named after Mao's most famous slogan - has been rejected for publication and a magazine that had been serialising the contents has been pulled from the shelves. Although it was written by one of China's most distinguished authors, Yan Lianke, propaganda ministry officials were reportedly apoplectic when they first read the tale of sexual revolution inside the People's Liberation Army." The Guardian (UK) 03/25/05

Wednesday, March 23

Ha Jin Wins PEN/Faulkner American author and poet Ha Jin has won the 25th annual PEN/Faulkner fiction prize for his latest novel War Trash. CBC 03/23/05

Ruling: Looted Book Must Be Reurned To Italy A 12th-century book stolen from Italy after the second World War and residing in a British library since 1947 must be returned to Italy says a court. The Guardian (UK) 03/24/05

Can Gourevitch Mend Paris Review? The appointment last week of New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch as new editor of The Paris Review seems to have quieted some critics of the magazine. “I’d never thought it would be fun to edit a huge magazine, it was never something that I aspired to. But the idea of having a small magazine, a writer’s magazine that was really about writing—I started to think about it, and I thought, I’d love to do this.” New York Observer 03/23/05

Dan Brown Fans Flock To Vatican To Check Out Mystery Tour groups are flocking to the Vatican in search of the clues in Dan Brown's murder mystery Angels and Demons. "The book uses his sculpture as clues pointing to a dastardly plot led by a secret society against the Roman Catholic Church - a threat to blow up the Vatican as the church elects a new pope. Surely this is an opportunity for [the Church] to show they are not an occult force shrouded in mystery. Dan Brown's implication that Bernini was part of an anti-religious conspiracy has left some art historians fuming. Others though are more pragmatic." BBC 03/23/05

Tuesday, March 22

Banning Books In China (But Not Effectively) China may be opening up, but government censors still have a firm grip. But a recently banned novella is finding alternate means of distribution around the censors. "Publishing in China is serving both the party and the people. Here, the party comes before the people. There are several forbidden topics for publishing in China, including politics, sex, the military and state secrets." Baltimore Sun 03/22/05

Dumas Novel Discovered In Biblioteque National A previously unknown novel by Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers, has been discovered in the French National Library... Sydney Morning Herald 03/23/05

Cartoonist Faces Greek Jail Cartoonist Gerhard Haderer finds himself facing jail time in Greece over his "depiction of Christ as a binge-drinking friend of Jimi Hendrix and naked surfer high on cannabis." "Haderer did not even know that his book, The Life of Jesus, had been published in Greece until he received a summons to appear in court in Athens in January charged with blasphemy. He was given a six-month suspended sentence in absentia, but if he loses his appeal next month his sentence could be increased to two years." The Guardian (UK) 03/22/05

Who Writers Write For... "A sign of the times; it is now quite common for an ambitious writer to announce that they will prepare their new proposal and/or sample chapter in time for Frankfurt or London. Nothing here about the inspiration of the jealous muse, but everything about the expectation of a quick sale in the feverish atmosphere of the literary marketplace. In the past, one of the perils facing the success ful novelist was the risk that he or she would make the mistake of writing to satisfy the public, 'dishing things up like short-order cooks', as Graham Greene observed towards the end of his life. In today's marketplace, there is more pressure than ever to come up with the literary equivalent of the Big Mac." The Observer (UK) 03/20/05

Monday, March 21

NY Public Library And Its Digital Democracy "Officially launched on March 3rd, the New York Public Library DIgital Gallery is presently offering 275,000 images (stored on a 57-terabyte, a thousand billion bytes of data, network of servers) for public perusal and free personal use ("...individual private study, scholarship and research..."). Most of the contents of the Gallery is in the public domain, and if you can obtain your own reproduction of any image you find here, you can probably use it as you see fit. The digitized copies on the NYPL website, however, are protected by copyright, and the Library charges a usage fee if an image is used in any "nonprofit or commercial publication, broadcast, web site, exhibition, promotional material, etc" contexts." Christian Science Monitor 03/21/05

Phone Publishing Japanese cell phone users are using their phones to read books. "Several mobile websites offer hundreds of novels -- classics, bestsellers and some works written especially for the medium. It takes some getting used to. Only a few lines pop up at a time because the phone screen is about half the size of a business card. But improvements in the quality of liquid-crystal displays and features such as automatic page-flipping, or scrolling, make the endeavour far more enjoyable than you'd imagine." Canoe 03/18/05

Sunday, March 20

A Great Weirdness Sex and Character by Otto Weininger, published in 1903 has had an outsized influence. It is a weird and great book. "The appearance next month of a definitive English translation, published by Indiana University Press, is a major cultural event — one that is, arguably, at least several decades overdue." Inside Higher Education 03/15/05

Has British Poetry Become Irrelevant? Has British poetry become "almost irrelevant, because the establishment has closed ranks against fresh ideas and forms?" So says the director of an experiment called Text Festival. "[It] has run out of steam. There's nowhere for it to go other than becoming a mild entertainment or an anachronism." The Guardian (UK) 03/20/05

Saudi Censorship Starting To Crumble "Pioneered two decades ago by men whose work is banned here, a genre of politically charged fiction in Saudi Arabia is now being produced by more writers and in greater quantity than ever before. It marks an artistic advance in a society in which writers have long confronted the deadening effect of state censorship, and a milestone in a desert kingdom where most people were illiterate a generation ago. The writing reflects the rising discontent in the kingdom and across the Middle East, where young populations increasingly exposed to Western ideas are demanding more social and political freedom. By taking on the powerlessness of women, the tyranny of tribal society and the role of religion in the birthplace of Islam, the writing is slowly undermining the cultural conventions that have kept provocative fiction off bookshelves here for years." Toronto Star 03/19/05

Free Market Competition Comes To Academia "In the academic world, the Chronicle of Higher Education is the newspaper of record. From stories of embattled administrators to the latest faculty appointments, its 140-plus pages have provided readers with industry news, job listings and similar information each week for nearly 40 years. Last January, three ex-employees challenged the Chronicle's grip on academic news by going online with a free, Web-based rival, insidehighered.com... In the coming months, insidehighered.com plans a major marketing campaign that will include advertising and direct mail," with the focus on the versatility and publication speed of the online model. The site's founders even expect it to turn a profit in the not-too-distant future. Chicago Tribune 03/19/05

Gilead Takes Critics Circle Award The National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction has been awarded to Marilynne Robinson for her long-awaited second novel, Gilead, which chronicles the life of an Iowa minister. The circle's poetry prize went to Adrienne Rich. Boston Globe 03/19/05

Kelley Plagiarism Lawsuit Dropped A lawsuit alleging that celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley used another author's work without permission in her book about the family of President Bush has been dropped, after the plaintiff decided that he was likely to lose the case on a technicality. "Under federal law, if a copyright holder fails to register with the office before an alleged infringement takes place, the holder is limited in the damages and lawyer's fees he can recover." Kelley has always maintained that her use of material from the other author's web site was legal under the "fair use" doctrine. The New York Times 03/19/05

Lexicography For Hipsters Most people don't think of lexicographers as having a great deal of impact on their daily lives, but as guardians of language, the people who write dictionaries and create the rules of pronunciation and proper usage actually wield a fair amount of influence over what we say and how we say it. Now, a new generation of lexicographers has begun to reshape the language business, and they appear to be better equipped to take the reins of American English at a relatively young age than any of their predecessors. "Today's rise of young, hip lexicographers reflects changes in the culture at large," not the least of which is the profound impact of online culture in shaping the academic mind. The New York Times 03/19/05

Friday, March 18

Picasso The Writer - Now In English Picasso was a prolific writer, and once joked he would be remembered as a "Spanish poet who dabbled in painting, drawing, and sculpture." Now his writing has been published in English. "Picasso's literary output has been little more than a footnote to public awareness of his artistic contribution, but 'it's the work of an accomplished poet. It was not trivial work. It's part of the history of experimental poetry in the 20th century'." Christian Science Monitor 03/18/05

Barnes And Noble Reports Bad Quarter Though sales were up in its stores, Barnes & Noble has reported a decline in profits for the last quarter of 2004. "For the three months ended Jan. 29, the retailer earned $115.6 million, or $1.56 per share, compared with $130.2 million, or $1.65 per share in the year-ago period. The New York-based company also warned that profits for the first quarter and for all of 2005 will be lower than analysts expected." Yahoo! (AP) 03/17/05

Mein Kampf Climbs Bestseller List In Turkey Hitler's infamous book has unexpectedly been selling up a storm in Turkey. "The book was first published here in 1939, when Axis and Allied countries were competing for Turkey's soul as they tried to woo it away from the neutrality it would maintain until the very end of World War II. But since January, the book has sold more than 50,000 copies and is number four on the best-seller list drawn up by the DetR bookstore chain." Yahoo (AFP) 03/17/05

Thursday, March 17

Google Print Faces Copyright Issues Is the Google Print Project in trouble? Three months after announcing it would put online vast numbers of books from prestigious libraries, Google is facing questions from publishers over copyright issues... Harvard Crimson 03/16/05

A Winning Poem About Einstein The British Association for the Advancement of Science (the BA) celebrated national science week and Einstein this year by holding a competition to write a "poem based around the work of the famous physicist. The competition was also open to the public, and the winners were announced today, with the adult prize going to a versified imaginary conversation with Einstein." The Guardian (UK) 03/17/05

They Do Know It's Fiction, Right? You would think that the monolithic and powerful Catholic church wouldn't have much to fear from a novel, even a bestselling one. But the Catholic leadership's all-out assault on Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code this week is evidence of the effect the book is having among the Catholic faithful. "Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, once a top dogma enforcer in Vatican City and currently archbishop of Genoa, broke the Vatican's virtual silence on the book this week and told Vatican Radio that nobody should read it and certainly Catholic bookstores should stop selling it." Washington Post 03/17/05

Wednesday, March 16

The Digital-Defying Book Biz The Paris Book Fair opens this weekend, as publishers take stock of their business. "Books are becoming more democratic. Fewer than nine percent of homes had no books in 1997, compared with more than a quarter in 1993. A huge study of the publishing market across the European Union has just been completed, which showed that in 2002 Britain led the way with some 120,000 new books, of all genres. Germany came in second with about 80,000, closely followed by Spain, Italy and France, all with about 60,000 to 70,000 new titles a year. In France the numbers have doubled in the past decade." Yahoo! (AFP) 03/16/05

Frank Rich's Move Back To Op-Ed After making a big mark as weekly columnist for the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section, Frank Rich moves back to the op-ed page. "Mr. Rich said that he has "loved" writing his column for Arts and Leisure. But the section goes to press on Tuesdays, which has forced him to write his column days before it gets published. The delay between writing and hitting the newsstand was a sore point. "I can’t say I liked having it sit there without being able to touch it," Mr. Rich said. New York Observer 03/16/05

Making the Mideast Safe For Literature The Middle East is not the easiest place to become a groundbreaking writer, with various forms of religious and government censorship always getting in the way of creative expression. But a new generation of Arab writers are challenging old modes of thinking, and taking on some long-standing taboos. Washington Post 03/16/05

Tuesday, March 15

Church Speaks Out Against Da Vinci Code The Catholic Church in Italy has spoken out against The Da Vinci Code. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa and a possible successor to the Pope, plans a series of debates on issues raised by the novel. "It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies. The book is everywhere. There is a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true." CBC 03/15/05

What Would Make People Buy More Books? A new research report offers some suggestions. "More than half of non-buyers say they would buy books if they became cheaper, and if they became more accessible. The research clearly shows that discounting expands the market, with cost the most quoted reason why non-buyers are rejecting books: 21% say new books are too expensive. The high-priced fiction hardback comes in for particular abuse from non, light and medium buyers. Supermarkets emerge with credit: more than half of all adults say they would buy more books if supermarkets stocked larger ranges." Bookseller 03/15/05

Poetry - The Best Of Times? What's it like to be a poet these days? Pretty good, says Billy Collins. "It's a very good time to be a poet. There are lots of prizes and opportunities to read, which wasn't the case until pretty recently." Denver Post 03/15/05

Monday, March 14

In Search Of Big Sales "Despite occasional hot sellers such as ''The Da Vinci Code," book sales have grown little in the past few years, and mass-market paperback sales have declined steadily. One big reason, it seems, is that baby boomers, historically the biggest mass-market buyers, increasingly find those little books too hard to read. Mass-markets are the thick, squareish paperbacks -- mostly entertainment fiction -- that you stick in your pocket or purse and read on the subway, airplane, or beach. It's a tried-and-true format. But something is wrong." Boston Globe 03/14/05

The Serial Book-Unfinisher Paul Wells finds he never finishes books these days. "It is a dark burden to bear, this business of not finishing books. You start out with all the goodwill in the world. You flip the pages diligently. Your circle of acquaintances expands by a dozen or more as this cast of made-up people enters your life. And before you even find out how it all turns out for them, you set them aside. What's your problem? You feel ungrateful, somehow. The author put his life into these people, and I can't even stick around to see who lives or who dies? And yet, as I stare at the books in my library, I realize I have become a serial book-unfinisher." Macleans 03/09/05

Sunday, March 13

The Catch-22 Of First Time Fiction "Literary first novels are almost impossible to introduce into the marketplace. Bookstores will only order them in small quantities, if at all, and it is difficult to get reviews, especially in places that really matter. Additionally, getting a bookstore reading for a first fiction author is an effort that would make Sisyphus proud. A well–established independent bookseller once told me flat out that he would never book a first fiction author into his store. Furthermore, to even have a chance of selling, a first novel has to classifiable, meaning it has to fit neatly into a genre or niche—mystery, thriller, crime, etc. A one sentence selling line also helps. However, literary fiction often cannot be easily classified or described." MobyLives 03/13/05

Paglia: Poetry's Sorry State Camille Paglia remembers the 1960s, when poetry mattered. "But over the following decades, poetry and poetry study were steadily marginalised by pretentious "theory" - which claims to analyse language but atrociously abuses it. Poststructuralism and crusading identity politics led to the gradual sinking in reputation of the premiere literature departments, so that by the turn of the millennium they were no longer seen, even by the undergraduates themselves, to be where the excitement was on campus. One result of this triumph of ideology over art is that, on the basis of their publications, few literature professors know how to "read" any more - and thus can scarcely be trusted to teach that skill to their students." The Telegraph (UK) 03/13/05

Author Chosen For Peter Pan Sequel Geraldine McCaughrean has been chosen to write a sequel to Peter Pan. "The working title of the new story is Captain Pan, an indication of what happened to Peter Pan as he advanced in years. The children's hospital has said that the book must feature the original characters, including Peter, Wendy, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook." BBC 03/13/05

UK Libraries In Desperate Need Of Cash Britain's public libraries are in serious decline, according to a new report, and a £650 million backlog of crucial repairs needs to be addressed soon. The lack of public funding for library maintenance has led to the "scandalous" situation, and the report calls funding for book allocation "very low" as well. BBC 03/12/05

It's An Author! It's A Marketing Whiz! Wait! It's Both! "With profits in the publishing world pretty flat in recent years, big publicity budgets are largely limited to the heavyweights in the writing world, the proven novelists (such as Stephen King) or famous memoirist (such as Bill Clinton). Everyone else gets about $5,000 to $10,000 to promote their title, if they're lucky. Many get nothing at all... The days when it was enough for an author to launch a Web site and give away some tote bags are over. An unknown writer today has to be an imaginative entrepreneur, with strong marketing skills -- not just a wordsmith." Washington Post 03/12/05

Friday, March 11

When Documents Are Digital, Where's The History? "When all our documents are generated by digital means, the nature of what consists of an "original" becomes fuzzier and fuzzier. (Is it the first copy from the printer? The electrons on the hard disk?) And if search companies like Google succeed in their mission to get all human knowledge online, available to everyone, we'll have the power to peruse existing documents like those in the Christie's auction from the comfort of our dens." Newsweek 03/11/05

Tracing CanLit Back To Its Source Canadian literature has been hot in recent years. But where does this writing come from? Much of it derrives from the lit program at the University of British Columbia. "Sure, there are other schools – the universities of Victoria, New Brunswick and Windsor prominent among them – but UBC was first (founded in 1965 by poet Earle Birney) and it's earned the kind of cachet that must drive its rivals to distraction. "Indeed, nearly half the graduating class of 2001 finished school with a book contract. Every publishing house, it seemed, needed its own author from the Buchanan Building." CBC 03/11/05

Thursday, March 10

Report: UK Libraries Need Major Help A new government report says UK public libraries are in dreadful shape and need major lottery funding. "The report by the Commons select committee on culture, media and sport indicts 50% of library services as "persistently below standard" after decades of underfunding - an explanation for steadily falling book loans and visitor numbers over the past 15 years. The committee cites estimates that between a quarter and more than two-thirds of a billion pounds would be needed to wipe out the backlog of building repairs and refurbishments." The Guardian (UK) 03/10/05

Is The Science Boom Busting? In the 1990s, books about science were hot. "With the boom, inevitably, there came a torrent of rubbish. The stylistic innovations of the trendsetters soon became, in the hands of the disciples, stale recipes, recycled over and over in formulaic and uninspiring ways. Even the titles began to seem repetitive: The Panda's Thumb, Galileo's Finger, Einstein's Brain ... What a pity nobody had the chutzpah to write a book about Newton's penis. A decade and a half later, there are signs that the popular science boom is running out of steam." The Guardian (UK) 03/11/05

Major Prize For Author Who Can't Read "Writer Howard Engel, who has serialized soft-boiled Jewish-Canadian gumshoe Benny Cooperman in 10 mystery novels, took home the top prize last night when [Canada's] Writers Trust handed out its annual awards... The white-haired author, 74, won the $20,000 Matt Cohen award 'in celebration of the writing life' for the body of his work, though the judges' citation made it clear the prize was also given for the gallant way Engel has faced a difficult personal situation. A widower raising a teenage son, he suffered a stroke four years ago in the occipital lobe of his brain that deprived him of the ability to read, though he is still able to write." Toronto Star 03/10/05

The Competitive World Of Academic Archiving "The recent death of Hunter S. Thompson has triggered speculation over where the gonzo journalist's papers will end up. In the final few weeks of Thompson's life, he was adamant about placing his papers at a single institution... For authors, artists and social figures, the allure of placing their private papers in an academic library is threefold: It's a chance to clean out the basement; it's an assurance that their legacy on paper will be professionally cataloged and preserved; and it can be profitable. There's a market for the best collections, and libraries are willing to invest." Chicago Tribune 03/10/05

Wednesday, March 9

Dismantling A Revered Publisher What's happened to Random House? "The flagship imprint of the world's largest publishing company is suffering an identity crisis. Staff turnover and a difficult marketplace for literary books are pushing Random House away from its highbrow heritage and toward the lowbrow commercialism that marks most of its competitors. And at the same time that it's shedding its literary distinctiveness, it has yet to enlist the sort of blockbuster author, such as John Grisham, who can be relied on to keep a commercial publisher in the black." New York Business 03/07/05

What Is It About "The Da Vinci Code"? "If the "Harry Potter" books stand as the essential popular read for young people, then "The Da Vinci Code" has captured the crown for grown-ups. A word-of-mouth sensation from the moment it came out, Brown's controversial mix of storytelling and speculation remains high on best-seller lists even as it begins its third year since publication. Twenty-five million books, in 44 languages, are in print worldwide and no end is in sight. Booksellers expect "The Da Vinci Code" to remain a best-seller well into 2005." CNN.com 03/09/05

The Funny Pages Move Online Many of the best young cartoonists are moving out of newspapers and on to the web. "In many ways the migration of comic strips to the internet is a sound business decision. Reacting to the twin pressures of rising newsprint costs and dwindling readerships, newspaper publishers over the years have drastically reduced the space devoted to strips. As a result, most strips today run at about half the page size that Little Orphan Annie did 50 years ago. The diminishing importance of comic strips, combined with a reluctance to recognize new talent, has resulted in a whole generation of cartoonists who see newspapers as a fading relic. Since 2000, dozens of young cartoonists have used the web as a self-syndication scheme." CBC 03/09/05

Tuesday, March 8

Do Readers Make Better Police Officers? The mayor of Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico, has "ordered all 1,100 members of the municipal police to read at least one book a month or forfeit their chance of promotion. 'We believe reading will improve their vocabulary and their writing skills, help them express themselves, order their ideas and communicate with the public. Reading will make them better police officers and better people'." The Guardian (UK) 03/08/05

Changes At The Top For Two Israeli Lit Supplements The literary supplements of two of Israel's largest publications have undergone a generational change. "Coincidentally or not, the literary supplements of the two mass-circulation dailies - Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv - are undergoing significant changes. Two months ago the veteran editor of the supplement in Yedioth retired after 39 years. He was replaced by his deputy of the past 20 years. At Maariv, the veteran editor of the literary supplement, Talma Admon, has been dismissed and Dana Elazar-Halevi has been appointed as her replacement." Ha'aretz 03/08/05

Monday, March 7

McCrum: Stop Whining About The State Of Publishing Enough of these tracts about there being too many books published and too few classics, writes Robert McCrum. "In an age of rampant capitalism, in the middle of a colossal information-technology revolution unparalleled since Gutenberg, it would be surprising if there was not a colossal overproduction. No more classics? Possibly the hyperactivity of the marketplace makes good books harder to detect, but there's no evidence that good books are missing their audiences or that writers today are any worse, or any better, than 50, even 100 years ago." The Observer (UK) 03/06/05

Here Come The 9/11 Books "After three years of near silence about the attacks of Sept. 11, the literary world has begun to grapple with the meanings and consequences of the worst terrorist attack ever to happen on American soil. A half-dozen novels that use 9/11 and its aftermath as central elements of their plot or setting, from some of the most acclaimed literary novelists and the most respected publishing houses, are being released later this year. A similar number have already made their way into bookstores in the last few months." The New York Times 03/07/05

Sunday, March 6

Scottish Writers Revolt Scotland's authors are proposing to break away from the Scottish Arts Council and are asking the Scottish Executive to start a special funding board just for literature. The move follows a dismal year for the Arts Council, and a similar breakaway request from Scotland's four largest performing arts groups. The Sunday Herald (UK) 03/06/05

Friday, March 4

Amazon's Best-Selling Books Worldwide What were the top-selling books in the world last year? Well, at Amazon, at least, Harry Postter tops the list in the UK, Franca and Japan. Dan Brown takes the top spot in Germany and Canada, while in the US it was Jon Stewart. Here's a list of the top ten lists for each country... Booktrade 03/04/05

Thursday, March 3

Schools: Reading For Tests? Or For Pleasure? Have UK schools forgotten to teach the joy of reading in their zeal to improve test scores? "Reading has always been seen as a source of considerable pleasure for many. This is important, but perhaps has been forgotten by some schools in their pursuit of higher tests results that will improve their position in the league tables. You will find no pleasure in books if you cannot read, but it is equally possible to be able to read and derive little pleasure." The Guardian (UK) 03/04/05

What We Read? (What Our Friends Read, Natch) What's most effective in selling a book? Word of mouth - personal recommendations. "Publishers often stand accused of becoming ever more sophisticated and cynical in their pursuit of creating instant author brands, when ultimately it is as likely to be good old-fashioned personal recommendation that really sells." BBC 03/04/05

Dan What's-His-Name And That Leonardo Book Take "Most Popular" Title What's the most popular book club book? "After nearly 13,000 votes, we can announce the winner is Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, followed by Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog... and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. A longlist of more than 50 was based on the suggestions from book clubs from across the UK who sent in their nominations to the Magazine last week." BBC 03/04/05

Extortionist Uses Da Vinci Code To Blackmail Company An extortionist in Australia used the Vigenere Code – made famous recently by the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code – to blackmail a construction company. The blackmailer used newspaper classified ads to send his messages to the company, theatening to kill crane drivers unless he was paid the ransom by Tuesday. Daily Telegraph (Australia) 03/04/05

For Some Real Fun, Try Putting Ulysses On 'Shuffle' "This week the South Huntington Public Library on Long Island, New York, became one of the first public libraries in the country to loan out iPod shuffles. For the past three weeks, the library ran a pilot program using the portable MP3 devices to store audio books downloaded from the Apple iTunes Music Store. They started with six shuffles, and now are up to a total of 10. Each device holds a single audio book." The library owns several low-cost iPods, and is saving money by downloading the audiobooks rather than purchasing them on CD. Wired 03/03/05

Wednesday, March 2

New York Library Online The New York Public Library has put 275,000 images of objects from its collection online. Included are collections of "prints, maps, posters, photographs, illuminated manuscripts, sheet-music covers, dust jackets, menus and cigarette cards. "If you dive in today without knowing why, you might not surface for a long, long time. The Public Library's digital gallery is lovely, dark and deep. Quite eccentric, too." The New York Times 03/03/05

Tuesday, March 1

Is Scotland Just Too Depressing? Are Scotland (and the Scots) really a country of depressing, depressed people who "celebrate failure"? (ouch) More arguments to that effect this week: "Jenny Brown, a former director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: "In an age where readers are looking for feel-good novels, Scotland excels at feel-bad books." The Scotsman 02/28/05

Thousands Of Items Missing From British Library More than 8,000 items have disappeared from the British Library since it moved to new premises. "Some disappearances were thefts, with collectors using razors to cut rare maps out of books. But the biggest theft is believed to have been carried out by a contractor who stole £17,000 worth of comics from a storage area. These included the first issue of the Beano to contain its iconic character, Dennis the Menace, dated March 17, 1951, and rare copies of the Dandy and Eagle." The Telegraph (UK) 03/01/05

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