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Thursday January 31

STICKING TO THE TRAIL: How to have a successful career as a writer? Novelist/playwright Michael Frayn says: "The only advice that I could think of giving to a young writer is to write the same thing over and over again, changing things very slightly and going on delivering it until people accept it. Very simply, people want reliability and continuity in a writer. If you buy cornflakes you want cornflakes." The Guardian (UK) 01/31/02

ANTI-THEFT: After the rash of high profile authors recently caught plagiarizing, one critic wonders how to stop plagiarism. Shame, that's how. Letting authors make financial settlements with those they have stolen from doesn't help the reader. Slate 01/30/02

THE OFFICIAL POET "The official poet laureate, appointed by the British royal family for over 300 years and rewarded with a 'butt of canary wine, to be paid annually,' is an object of mild scorn for literary skeptics and antimonarchists alike. But at a time when published opinion is much regulated by professional spin doctors, this institution can be used to promote a reexamination of the role played by poets and poetry in public life." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 01/31/02

MAKE IT STOP: "Another complaint against Stephen Ambrose has emerged. This one dates back to 1970, when fellow historian Cornelius Ryan accused him of a 'rather graceless falsification' in Ambrose's book, The Supreme Commander. The allegations were first reported Tuesday on Forbes.com." The Plain Dealer (AP) 01/31/02

SOME VERY UNPOETIC SOUR GRAPES: "Winning the coveted T.S. Eliot Prize last week has confirmed Anne Carson's status as one of the most celebrated and controversial of contemporary poets. Soon after the prize was announced, Carson, who teaches classics at McGill University in Montreal, was denounced in Britain's Guardian newspaper by eminent poetry critic Robert Potts for writing 'doggerel' that mixes 'an occasional (and occasionally cliched) lyricism, some fashionable philosophizing and an almost artless grafting-on of academic materials.'" National Post (Canada) 01/31/02

Wednesday January 30

STEPHEN KING SAYS NO MORE NOVELS: Stephen King has a new novel coming out. So what? He publishes so many books in a year that he even made up a pseudonym so publishers could handle the overflow. So it may be his last. "You get to a point where you ... basically recycle stuff," he says. "I've seen it in my own work. People when they read Buick Eight are going to think Christine. It's about a car that's not normal, OK?" A couple more projects, "Then that's it. I'm done. Done writing books." CNN 01/29/02

Tuesday January 29

LITERARY NOMINATIONS: The National Book Critics Circle announces its award nominees. Heading up the fiction list is Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. Other nominees include WG Sebald's Austerlitz, Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, Colson Whitehead's John Henry Days, and Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Evidently Franzen's dustup with Oprah earlier this winter hasn't hurt The Corrections. The book already won the National Book Award, and sales have almost reached the 1 million mark - an impressive number for a work of literary fiction. Nando Times (AP) 01/28/02

PLAGIARISM AND TECHNOLOGY: In the last month, two prominent American historians have faced charges of plagiarism, and lately, it seems that not a month goes by without some well-known author or other standing accused. It's not that the problem of plagiarism has become appreciably more widespread than it used to be - it's that new computer programs can compare texts far more efficiently than ever before. San Francisco Chronicle 01/29/02

STANDARDS OF FAIRNESS: A new copyright law has been passed in Germany that mandates that publishers must pay freelance writers a "fair" compensation that is "standard in the trade." The big question is how this will be enacted. What is fair? and if "standard" practice is unreasonably low, will it be fair? Perhaps predictably, publishers are unhappy with the new law. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 01/29/02

PIPPI LONGSTOCKING CREATOR DIES: Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish writer whose 'Pippi Longstocking' books won the hearts of children and adults the world over, has died at her home in Stockholm at the age of 94. "Lindgren's works were translated into dozens of languages, ranging from Azerbaijani to Zulu, and sold more than 130 million copies worldwide." Dallas Morning News (AP) 01/28/02 (one-time registration required for access)

Monday January 28

LISTEN UP: MP3 books are becoming popular - whole books can be downloaded onto tiny devices that can be reloaded over and over again. The format is especially popular with "with commuters, foreign students learning English and the visually impaired." The Independent (UK) 01/26/02

IT'S NOT PLAGIARISM, IT'S A TRIBUTE: Olaf Olafsson is "vice chairman of Time Warner Digital Media, father of the Sony PlayStation and an acclaimed novelist." But his latest book contains numerous passages stolen word for word from "the late, great Bay Area food writer M.F.K. Fisher." Contacted about the copying, Olafsson says what he did wasn't copy but pay "tribute." He says that "readers familiar with Fisher, who died in 1992, will recognize the borrowed passages and understand he's paying homage." Siliconvalley.com 01/27/02

HOW/WHY TO READ: Who needs a book to tell them how to read? "Professorial how-to-read books have always struck me as eminently avoidable, in part because such lamentations are wearisome, even if not altogether untrue. If the lay reader knows enough to know that she needs to pick up a book on reading, why must her self-knowledge be met with a harangue against philistinism? Besides, all criticism teaches us how to read; literary essays instruct best when they are not overtly instructive. Or so I thought." The New York Times 01/27/02

THE AUTHOR, NOT THE PERSON: Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph J. Ellis canceled his book tour last week. Last year it was revealed that Ellis had lied about having served in Vietnam during the war, and Ellis was sure to be questioned about this on the tour. In Seattle, there have also been objections to Ellis speaking at an author series at the Seattle Public Library. But hosts of the event have decided to go ahead with the appearance in February. "It seemed to us that Ellis' personal life - what he did or didn't do as a teacher - really has nothing to do with the scholarship that went into his books about Jefferson and the founding brothers." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 01/28/02

Sunday January 27

RENOVATING OUT THE LIBRARY EXPERIENCE: The New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has a great collection. It recently reopened after an extensive renovation. "But — a sign of the times? — the research division is no longer a pleasurable place in which to read a book or listen to a recording." The New York Times 01/27/02

Friday January 25

CALL IT BURNSDAY: Today's the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns (he'd be 243), and in his home, "Fuelled by haggis and whisky, revellers recite Rabbie's verses in celebration of his life, work and love of Scotland." Find out how much you know about Scottish writers (including at least one of the awful ones). The Guardian (UK) 01/25/02

THE BEST BOOK REVIEW? "The Times Literary Supplement - known universally as the TLS - is a hundred years old this month. From its first densely printed, eight-page edition of Jan. 17, 1902, to its special bumper 48-page centenary issue currently on newsstands, it has carved out a unique position in the world of papers and journals as the reviewer of all that is best and most important in new books, from novels and poetry to academic studies and biographies." Los Angeles Times 01/24/02

E-TEXTS: University presses and libraries at 12 American universities have teamed up on an e-publishing plan for scholarly books. " The hope is that university presses in the consortium might one day offer all of their books in electronic form in a version that could be linked to a joint online library catalog that the group already operates. It could quickly become be a sizable collection: The university presses publish about 1,000 new books each year." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/24/02

TRANSLATING THE UNTRANSLATABLE: The poet Czeslaw Milosz once wrote that "exile is the worst fate that may befall a poet, since poetry cannot live without its roots in native speech," and another poet, Robert Frost, wrote that "Poetry is what gets lost in translation." Still, translators continue trying to wrestle the poetry of one language into another, and sometimes bring it off. The Economist 01/24/02

Thursday January 24

WHO'S "BORROWING" FROM WHOM? The issue of plagiarism is more complex than black-and-white. "On the one hand, formal rules against plagiarism grow ever more abundant and ever more stringent (even if no more original), and Op-Ed columnists wax furious in their condemnation of plagiarism by public officials. On the other hand, many Op-Ed columns are written by individuals other than the one whose name appears on the byline, and for that matter many newspaper stories are more-or-less verbatim versions of press releases sent out by political organizations, trade associations, or other interest groups." The Idler 01/23/02

AND THIS AFFECTS LAW ENFORCEMENT HOW? Okay, follow closely: The police department of Penryn, Pennsylvania, is boycotting this year's YMCA triathlon, refusing to direct traffic and stand around looking important. Why? The YMCA apparently reads Harry Potter books to children. So? Well, the wee wizard is all satanic and stuff, y'know. Nando Times (AP) 01/24/02

Wednesday January 23

BLACK HOLES: "Six months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that publishers don't own the rights to online freelance articles. The publishers have responded by purging freelance articles - sometimes entire newspaper archives - from online databases. Almost 20 years' worth of newspaper history, a vital source of information for those studying history, politics, society, the media, and other subjects, is shot through with more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. Scholars worry that they might find holes in their research. No one in academe seems to know how many articles, and which ones, are missing from the databases. After all, online databases, with their ethereal form, aren't like broadsheets of newsprint - you can't open them like you would a morning paper and see the holes cut out." Chronicle of Higher Education 01/21/02

GOODWIN CHARGED WITH COPYING: Now it's historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's turn to be accused of plagiarism. A letter to The Weekly Standard (the publication which revealed historian Stephen Ambrose's plagiarism two weeks ago) pointed out that "Goodwin's The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys borrowed with insufficient attribution from three earlier works by other authors." The magazine's "examination of the works in question confirmed the correspondent's allegation." The Weekly Standard 01/28/02

  • BY WAY OF EXPLANATION: ''All that really happened was she sent me a letter saying not all the passages that relied on her work had been as fully footnoted as she would have liked,'' said Goodwin. ''I agreed with her.'' A monetary settlement was paid. Boston Globe 01/22/02
  • WHAT'S THE STANDARD? "Goodwin has not only committed plagiarism, but lied about whether it was plagiarism (and, incidentally, paid hush money to one of the people she plagiarized)." Slate 01/22/02
  • A SIMPLE TRUTH: Whew - it's tough to defend those who "borrowed" the words of others without the proper credit. But the principle stands: "If you didn't write it, you need to put quote marks around it. It really is that simple." MobyLives 01/22/02

THE TRADITION OF POETRY IN ARABIA: "Poets from all over Arabia would recite their poems in front of judges. Each year the festival’s winning poem would be transcribed in golden letters and hung on the door of Ka’bah in Mecca for the whole year. It was like the Nobel Prize of ancient Arabia. In every Arab country every day, poets appear on television, on the radio, or in the newspaper. Every single newspaper in the Arab world every day has poetry. Poetry is the essence of Arab culture." Humanities January-February 2002

NOVELS - AND NOVELISTS - BURIED IN THE PAST: What's happened to our novelists lately? They're so busy robbing the grave, as it were - writing about characters from the past, instead of focusing on our present world. And the problem seems to be worst of all in Australia. The Age (Melbourne) 01/21/02

Tuesday January 22

CANADIAN WINS ELIOT PRIZE: "Canadian poet and essayist Anne Carson has been named the winner of the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry for 2001. Ms Carson's 'poignant' and 'unique' collection The Beauty of the Husband was the best work of new poetry published in the UK and Ireland last year, a panel of poets has decided." BBC 01/21/02

KIDS' CORNER: "The story of an orphan living under a bridge in 12th century Korea won top honors in children's literature Monday from the American Library Association. "A Single Shard," by Linda Sue Park, won the Newbery Medal, awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children... David Wiesner, illustrator and author of "The Three Pigs," won the Randolph Caldecott Medal, awarded each year to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." Orlando Sentinel 01/21/02

THE CLASSICS, ONLINE: "Project Gutenberg, named after the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg, is an online, worldwide database of books in electronic form - and it's free. Since 1971, volunteers have transposed or scanned more than 4000 books on to the US site." The Age (Melbourne) 01/22/02

  • SPEAKING OF GUTENBERG: Not much is known about the life of the man who invented the printing press. "It is unclear exactly when Gutenberg was born, how he was schooled or whether he married. The date of his death, 1468, is known only from an uncorroborated note casually scribbled by an acquaintance on a printed book's flyleaf. The circumstances under which he arrived at his two most important ideas - the notion of movable type itself and the hand-mould technology needed for the rapid mass-casting of the letters - have gone unrecorded." Financial Times 01/22/02

HOW TO CREATE AWKWARDNESS: Few things in life are as deadly as a close friend's book recommendation. The enjoyment of literature is an intensely personal activity, and one person's life-changing page-turner may be another's deadly bore. And the walls of friendship come tumbling down... National Post (Canada) 01/22/02

Monday January 21

STUCK IN THE PAST: Why are so many of Australia's best contemporary novels set in the past? It's the rare story that reflects life that is familiar to us today. Is it that "we're not the most powerful nation on earth and so do not find, like the Americans do, power and significance dwelling in our most ordinary things?'' The Age (Melbourne) 01/21/02

SO WHAT'S A LITTLE PLAGIARISM...: Historian Stephen Ambrose may be scorned for his plagiarism revealed in the past few weeks. But in his hometown of New Orleans, few seem to care. The Times-Picayune wrote in an editorial Jan. 11: "He has been 'a great friend to this community ... No one wants to see Mr. Ambrose's numerous achievements diminished by the present allegations." Others wonder: "So what if he plagiarized? Everyone plagiarizes to some extent. He has raised awareness of history among a whole new population of Americans." Nando Times (AP) 01/21/02

Sunday January 20

TO CATCH A PLAGIARIST: Why did it take so long for historian-plagiarist Stephen Ambrose to get caught? More importantly, why did it take a conservative magazine editor to expose the wrongdoing of one of right-wing America's biggest intellectual apologists? "Could it be that the left is too indifferent to American military history to bother catching one of its best-selling mythologizers with his pants down? Or does resentment of blockbuster book sales cut across party lines, afflicting conservatism's detractors and its supporters alike with touching bipartisanship?" San Francisco Chronicle 01/19/02

THE WORST SEX EVER: "Writing a sex scene with authenticity of emotion is the literary equivalent to the struggle visual artists have in painting hands and feet. As with the act itself, performance anxiety can lead to overwriting in an author who is trying too hard, or limpness in a writer unable to rise above self-consciousness." Herein, the best examples of such literary impotence, as judged by a panel of Canadian publishers, and featuring such gems as "Ride my stallion, Morag." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 01/19/02

Friday January 18

MORE AMBROSE: Yet another book has been added to the Stephen Ambrose plagiarism list. "Despite Ambrose's continued dominance of the bestseller lists, 2002 is shaping up as a year to forget for America's favorite celebrity historian. He apologized immediately for not putting quotation marks around the purloined Wild Blue passages; since then, as the other five books have been identified one or two at a time, he generally has declined to comment." Forbes.com 01/17/02

  • CAREER EFFECT? Some book world people doubt that publicity about Ambrose's plagiarism, though embarrassing for Ambrose, would hurt sales of his bestselling history books. Indeed, it "might actually end up boosting sales by attracting more attention to his books. In any case, the best-selling historian will remain a hot literary property. 'Any agent or publisher would be glad to grab him'." Forbes.com 01/11/02

PLAGIARISM, CHINESE EDITION: Wang Mingming, an elite professor at Beijing University, and credited in China with reviving interest in sociology, has been "accused of using parts of a 1987 edition of Cultural Anthropology, a widely used textbook by William A. Haviland of the University of Vermont, in his own 1998 book. Wang translated Haviland's book into Chinese in 1987 with his permission. The official Xinhua News Agency says Wang has been stripped of his teaching posts." Nando Times (AP) 01/17/02

S'BETTER TO LOOK GOOD? "Why are so many people paying hard-earned cash for books they can barely begin to understand? Part of the answer, surely, is vanity. A Hawking or Greene sitting on the coffee table--preferably with a few pages conspicuously bent back at the corners--sends a powerful message to visiting friends, prospective dates, and (above all) to oneself, that an intellect is present in the house. Whether or not you read them, possession alone looks good. Intellectual vanity is as potent a force as the sartorial variety." Los Angeles Times 01/13/02

MAKING RARE BOOKS ACCESSIBLE: "Octavo Corp. and its staff of eight have revolutionized the conservation and accessibility of rare books, using technology in the service of history. This month they're starting work on the most famous book in the U.S., the Library of Congress' pristine copy of the Gutenberg Bible. Through a combination of hardware - lights, cameras, and a lot of servers - and software, the company produces digital reproductions of rare books, which it then sells to consumers." SFWeekly 01/17/02

Thursday January 17

ART OF THE NOVEL: There's been a rash of novels lately in which writers have found the inspiration for their story, or their characters, in famous (or not-so-famous) paintings. "For a writer, an intriguing picture hot-wires the storytelling engine. Before committing word one to paper, you already know the time, place and setting. You not only see what your main character looks like, you know her class." Washington Post 01/17/02

CHILDERS ON AMBROSE: Historian Thomas Childers speaks out on Stephen Ambrose's plagiarism of his work: "I was surprised and disappointed. I was bewildered, at first, as to how he would have the chutzpah to do this. He didn't have to do this, and I wasn't flattered. My wife, Kristin, was angry enough for the both of us." But Childers decided to say nothing: "Do I really want to be the scholarly guy rapping the famous guy on the knuckles in a schoolmarmish way?" Philadelphia Inquirer 01/16/02

  • GETTING IT VERY WRONG: World War II vets aren't as upset about the copying as they are about all the mistakes about the war in Ambrose's books. "The real problem is that Ambrose gets key things about World War II wrong all by himself. That Ambrose, America's most popular war historian, has published eight books in five years is seen by them as not so much an excuse for the alleged errors as the reason." Philadelphia Inquirer 01/15/02

NOBELIST CAMILO CELA, 85: "Spanish writer Camilo Jose Cela, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for literature, has died in Madrid from respiratory and coronary failure. With his first novel, published in 1946, Cela became a leader of a straightforward style of writing, called tremendismo, which clashed with the lyricism that had characterised writers of the previous generation in Spain." BBC 01/17/02

Wednesday January 16

WHY STEALING'S ALWAYS BAD: Historian Stephen Ambrose has been caught plagiarizing in at least four of his books. This is a very serious offense, so it's off to the penalty box for him. The media has made a big deal of this, but historians haven't condemned him with the vehemence one would expect. Why? Several reasons, but "a comparison of the Ambrose and Monaghan books found that, despite picking up sentences here and there, Ambrose wasn't wedded to Monaghan's work. He had synthesized material from many sources and was producing his own version of Custer's life." Chicago Tribune 01/16/02

THE PROBLEM BEQUEST: A small library in Massachusetts gets a million-dollar bequest from a letter carrier who died in 1940 to buy books. But the library is stuffed full and has no room to put any new volumes. What it really needs is to expand - but should the terms of the bequest be broken? National Post (AP) 01/16/02

Tuesday January 15

STARTING OVER: "In late September, Phyllis Grann shocked the book world by announcing she would leave Penguin Putnam, the $750 million publishing empire she assembled over 25 years and could not have dominated more completely if her name were on the building. Most executives with her career would have simply retired. She was the first woman CEO in publishing, and the head of an imprint that's reputed to be 50 percent more profitable than any of its peers. Instead of bowing out, however, Grann trotted out F. Scott Fitzgerald's crack about American lives' having no second acts, vowed to have one of her own, then sat back to watch the frenzy of speculation about her next move." Then she joined Random House. New York Magazine 01/14/02

LARKIN'S MONEY GOES TO CHURCH: Poet Philip Larkin, who "declined the poet laureateship a year before he died in 1985, remains best known for his reverently agnostic poem Churchgoing. He also said: 'The Bible is a load of balls of course - but very beautiful'." So his friends and fans were amused recently when £1 million of his legacy was willed to the Church of England. The Guardian (UK) 01/12/02

Monday January 14

WHY PLAGIARISM MATTERS: The charges of plagiarism are mounting against historian Stephen Ambrose. " Ambrose's patriots can't fall back on the factory defense anymore: Two of the cases occurred when Ambrose was an obscure professor, before he became Stephen Ambrose Industries. Ambrose is more defiant than apologetic. Ambrose's assertion that he's not a thief is ludicrous. One plagiarism is careless. Two is a pattern. Four, five, or more is pathology. You can bet that historians jealous of Ambrose (that is, all historians) are this minute combing the rest of his corpus for more evidence of sticky fingers." Slate 01/11/02

AND THE BOOK BUSINESS IS INTELLECTUAL, RIGHT? Lest anyone forget, the book business is run by individuals - people who can be as petty, self-serving, obtuse and wrong-headed as the rest of us. MobyLives nominates 2001's most misguided figures. MobyLives 01/14/02

WHAT'S LEFT OVER: Most books at some point get remaindered. "The common misconception is that remainders are 'bad' books. Some may be, but the reality is almost every author - Booker and Giller winners, and names like Atwood and Urquhart - have titles that have been thrown into the bins. And they're the gems that voracious readers eagerly forage for.Remainders are an important part of our business, accounting for at least 10 per cent of overall sales " The Globe & Mail (Canada) 01/11/02

A LESSON IN HUMILITY: "To write The Best Book Ever Written is not a ridiculous aspiration. Ridiculous would be to aspire to write a 'flawed, two-dimensional and structurally awkward' novel. 'Pretentious twaddle' is not the kind of star to which a wagon can be very usefully hitched. Mid-list leaves something to be desired as a career goal. There is much to be gained by setting out to write The Best Book Ever Written, not the least of which is that once every millennium, somebody might actually do it. However, as commendable as it is to aim high, and as useful a motivator as unreasonable ambition may prove to be, the kind of literary pride that makes writers think that readers will drop everything to read them is rarely helpful once a book is published. For all but the rare exceptions, publication is a crash course in humility." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 01/11/02

Sunday January 13

THE WANDERING PRIZE: "In the starry firmament of literary prizes, from the distant twinkling of Somerset Maugham to the intergalactic majesty of Orange, to the autumn brilliance of Booker, Whitbread is the wandering planet: wreathed in vapour, beyond radio contact and thrillingly weird, the object of fascinated annual terrestrial speculation." The Observer (UK) 01/13/02

PUTTING MARK TWAIN IN HIS PLACE: Was Mark Twain America's greatest writer? Ken Burns' new documentary forces the question. "Here's a guy who wrote such classics as Tom Sawyer, such politically charged novels as Pudd'nhead Wilson and such eye-opening travelogues as The Innocents Abroad. He also had the kind of grand tragedies in his personal life that we expect from great writers: losing loved ones at a young age, going broke by investing in one silly invention after another, struggling with clinical depression. But there's a problem in putting Twain at the head of the class. He was funny. Too funny." Minneapolis Star Tribune 01/13/02

Friday January 11

AMBROSE - TOO PROLIFIC TO BE ORIGINAL? As accusations about plagiarism mount against popular historian/author Stephen Ambrose, checking out Ambrose's books has become a cottage industry. He's written a lot of books - too many too quickly, say some critics, to be reliable. "In seven years, Ambrose has published nine books of history, plus the eighth edition of a co-authored survey of American foreign policy. In the last two years alone, he's published four books, including The Wild Blue and Nothing Like It in the World. Many of his books have become bestsellers." Washington Post 01/11/02

THE HALLMARK POET: Poet Maya Angelou has a new job - writing greeting cards for Hallmark. "If I'm America's poet, or one of them, then I want to be in people's hands. All people's hands, people who would never buy a book." Some samples? "Life is a glorious banquet, a limitless and delicious buffet." Or how about: "The wise woman wishes to be no one's enemy, the wise woman refuses to be anyone's victim." USAToday 01/10/02

BOOKS ON THE HALF SHELL: You see them everywhere now, these little half-efforts meant to be taken in during a pedicure or while in a holding pattern over Providence, from The One Minute Manager (111 pages, $20) to Who Moved My Cheese? - 77 glorious pages for $19.95. There is also the very successful Penguin Lives series, which allows the reader to congratulate him- or herself on having read a biography of Woodrow Wilson when in reality the mark has absorbed a lovely, but brief, essay by Louis Auchincloss and paid $20 for the privilege." Boston Globe 01/10/02

AND 'TWAS EVER THUS: James Boswell, perhaps the best-known-ever biographer, was "a rash and impulsive soul, easily foxed, fuzzy-brained, vastly bipolar and a martyr to booze, gambling and rabid fornication." On a winter evening in 1774, he noted in his diary, "Much intoxicated. Found myself bouncing down an almost perpendicular stone stair. Could not stop but when I came to the bottom of it, fell with a good deal of violence, which sobered me much." So he went home to write. The Irish Times 01/08/02

Thursday January 10

THOSE OTHER SHOES KEEP DROPPING: Poor Stephen Ambrose. People keep accusing him of lifting material from other sources for his own books, but not giving credit. Charges three and four complain that his book, "Citizen Soldier, and Part 3 of his Richard Nixon trilogy, contain passages similar to those in other texts." Ambrose was reported to be unsure whether any of his other books - he's published more than 20 - have similar problems. Washington Post 01/10/02

  • Previously: MORE AMBROSE ALLEGATIONS: "A second book by best-selling historian Stephen Ambrose is being cited for having material that was allegedly copied from another text. Forbes.com is reporting that Ambrose's Crazy Horse and Custer contains sections similar to Jay Monaghan's Custer. A representative for Ambrose said Tuesday there would be no immediate comment. Anchor Books, which publishes the paperback edition of Crazy Horse and Custer, also declined immediate comment." Philadelphia Inquirer (AP) 01/09/02

NY'S DISAPPEARING BOOKSTORES: What's happening to Manhattan's independent book stores? They're closing, that's what. "Whatever the factors—rent spikes, chain domination, reading-allergic citizenry, publishers' high price tags—it was hard for a bookstore lover not to notice all the closings in 2001." Village Voice 01/09/02

IN THE CROSSHAIRS: "Biography is not a pretty business, and biographers, by and large, are a devious, unscrupulous bunch. I would not trust any of us, were I unlucky enough to be the hunted rather than the hunter." The Age (Melbourne) 01/10/02

Wednesday January 9

LIBRARIANS TO THE RESCUE: Publisher HarperCollins was ready to pulp Michael Moore's new book for its criticisms of George Bush (among other things) and never release it. But a librarian heard about Moore's plight and rallied other librarians to the cause, and now the book is finally getting into stores. Salon 01/07/02

MOVEABLE SLUSH PILE: Publishers are inundated with thousands of manuscripts each year. Of those, only a few ever see their way into print. More and more the onus on filtering out manuscripts is falling not on publishers but on agents. "Formerly, writers toiled in garrets and sent their work to publishers, who eventually gave the thumbs up or down. As publishers' resources have shrunk and been redirected, they have abdicated that crucial gatekeeper's task to others: agents, mainly, a small number of award judges, and manuscript assessment services." Sydney Morning Herald 01/09/02

HECK, JUST READ 'EM ALL: Last year, the Chicago Public Library initiated a campaign to get everyone in the city (a good percentage of them, anyway) to read the same book over the same summer in order to promote reading and literature in general. The book was Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Now, it's time to select a book for the second year of the program, and public response could not be more enthusiastic. And therein lies the problem - no one can agree on one book. Chicago Tribune 01/09/02

MORE AMBROSE ALLEGATIONS: "A second book by best-selling historian Stephen Ambrose is being cited for having material that was allegedly copied from another text. Forbes.com is reporting that Ambrose's Crazy Horse and Custer contains sections similar to Jay Monaghan's Custer. A representative for Ambrose said Tuesday there would be no immediate comment. Anchor Books, which publishes the paperback edition of Crazy Horse and Custer, also declined immediate comment." Philadelphia Inquirer (AP) 01/09/02

Tuesday January 8

A SUBJECTIVE CRIME: Plagiarism has always been hard to define, and the case of Stephen Ambrose emphasizes the point. Ambrose reprinted unattributed passages from another book in his latest tome, for which he has apologized. But the New York Times reprinted nearly verbatim the allegations against Ambrose from the magazine they first appeared in, also without attribution. Is that plagiarism? Does context matter? And for good measure, is Ambrose's apology and promise to correct later editions even remotely enough to make things right? Philadelphia Inquirer 01/08/02

NEWSFLASH - PEOPLE LIKE THEIR BOOKS TO INCLUDE PAPER: It would be nice to say that it seemed like a good idea at the time, but in truth, the "e-books" phenomenon has been one of the economic downturn's most predictable casualties. Dozens of companies, from global publishers to internet-based startups, leaped into the e-book fray a couple of years ago, with all the usual pronouncements about how the new tehnology would change everything about the way we read. These days, the small companies are gone, the big ones are downsizing, and e-books are considered a vast money pit. Publishers Weekly 01/07/02

THE SLUR THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME: "Regardless of spelling, pronunciation, or intention, arguably no word in the American lexicon conjures more incendiary emotion and history than 'nigger.' Considered so barbed and venomous it is widely referred to as 'the n-word,' in many corners uttering its two syllables aloud is tantamount to yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater. Still, it's the only title Randall Kennedy considered for his latest book. Both informative and infuriating, 'Nigger' is an anatomy of an epithet, which, through four centuries, has lost none of its potency to enrage and fuel fierce debate." Boston Globe 01/08/02

Monday January 7

AMBROSE ADMITS COPYING WORK: Over the weekend Stephen Ambrose admitted lifting passages from Thomas Childers' book for his best-selling history of World War II The Wild Blue. "I made a mistake for which I am sorry. It will be corrected in future editions of the book." The New York Times 01/06/02

  • DID HISTORIAN AMBROSE STEAL SOMEONE ELSE'S WORK? Stephen Ambrose is "perhaps America's most popular historian and one of its most prolific." His most recent book, climbing the New York Times' Bestseller list, focuses on a B-24 crew in World War II. Weedkly Standard columnist Fred Barnes contends Ambrose copied passages of the book from a 1995 book by Thomas Childers. Weekly Standard 01/04/02
  • THE CASE AGAINST AMBROSE: "In an interview, Professor Childers, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, said he, too, had concluded that Mr. Ambrose borrowed excessively. 'I felt sort of disappointed,' he said." The New York Times 01/05/02

Sunday January 6

CLUES TO THE FRENCH MIND: A French poll listing of the 50 greatest books of the 20th Century says some important things about the French. First, about half of the books on the list aren't French. Second - none of the English books were written before World War II. And there are no important contemporary American authors represented. "They still have a rather Francophone understanding of English and American literature. As nothing, of course, to American and British parochialism in respect of foreign literature. But also I detect a kind of eagerness to be part of a wider world. Many French people think that France must engage more fully with the outside world: they are alarmed that the Anglophone world is leaving them behind. This world of hundreds of millions of English speakers seems in its unstoppable immensity to them to be consigning France to a sort of museum culture." The Guardian (UK) 01/05/02

Friday January 4

SURPRISE WHITBREAD WINNER: "Patrick Neate has won the Whitbread novel award with his second book, Twelve Bar Blues, beating strong favourite Ian McEwan. The surprise winner receives £5,000 in prize money and goes on to compete for the Whitbread Book of the Year - worth £25,000 - alongside the other Whitbread winners and the winner of the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year." BBC 01/04/02
  • NEATE SURPRISE: "When my book was published it did not make the barest ripple on the surface of the nation's literature, so to win an award beating Ian McEwan and Helen Dunmore is just absurd." BBC 01/04/02

BULLISH ON PUBLISHING: The Dow Jones might have had an off year in 2001 (the index fell 7.1 percent), but publishing companies did well with their stock prices. The Publishers Weekly index tracking stock prices of 22 publishing companies rose by 10.3 percent. Book manufacturers and book retailers had a very strong year while e-publishing struggled. Publishers Weekly 01/02/02

POETIC PALLOR: What's going on with the American Academy of Poets? Last fall it laid off employees and fired William Wadsworth, its longtime director. "During Wadsworth's 12-year tenure, the Academy launched an array of new programs: National Poetry Month; the Poetry Book Club; a Web site; and the Online Poetry Classroom, which encourages poetry education in secondary schools. Wadsworth also oversaw the addition of five awards to the Academy's distinguished series, as well as the establishment of the Atlas/Greenwall Fund, which provides support to noncommercial poetry publishers. Under Wadsworth's leadership the Academy's annual income increased from $400,000 to $3 million, and its total assets grew from $2 million to $10 million." Poets & Writers 01/02

Thursday January 3

MUGGLES GOT NO SENSE OF HUMOR: Time was when a cultural phenomenon knew it had hit the big time when a parody showed up in Mad Magazine. These days, the modern equivalent seems to be when some aspiring satirist finds his/her work shot down in court, or declined by publishers fearful of the wrath of their corporate peers. A Harry Potter parody is the latest victim of the publishing/merchandising brand-protection conspiracy, and its author is not happy. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 01/02/02

COWBOY COUPLETS: It gets lonely out there on the prairie, ridin' the range with nothin' but the tumbleweed and the herd to keep you company on those long, cold, Midwest nights. At least we assume it does: how else to explain the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, going on this month in Elko, Nevada? "Started 18 years ago, the annual event, which now lasts a week, is attended by more than 8,000 people. The schedule features workshops, exhibitions, panel discussions, films, and performances by some of today's finest cowboy poets, musicians, and craftsmen." Christian Science Monitor 01/02/02

Wednesday January 2

SAVING BOOKS: The Library of Congress has begun plans to de-acidify a million books in its collection. "More than 150 years ago, papermakers started using chemicals that made their product acidic and thus more susceptible to decay." The Library has a "plan to de-cidify about 8.5 million of the library's 18.7 million books, a move that is intended to add hundreds of years to the life of the books." The New York Times 01/01/02

PUBLISHING THE ARTWORLD: As the artworld gets more complex, sprawling and difficult to sort through, a tiny magazine called Border Crossings produced in central Canada makes a pretty good guide. "Writers in Border Crossings accomplish, better than most, the critic's most difficult task: communicating art ideas to non-artists and artists alike, explaining what matters to the first group without boring or appalling the second. For the most part, they avoid artspeak, the private language that disfigures many magazines." National Post 01/02/02

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