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MARCH 2002

Friday March 29

RICHLY RISKED: What happens when an author, discovered by a publisher and earnestly promoted, strikes it big, winning prizes and selling millions of books? Well, he writes a second novel. But the author has gotten so big, the publisher who took a risk on him is unable to afford the advance - projected to be about $5 million. Charles Frazier is the author, and his second book is about to go to bid. Grove Atlantic, which published Frazier's Cold Mountain to such acclaim, is likely out of the running because of the money involved. Fair? The New York Times 03/29/02

WHERE BOOKS GO TO DIE: What happens to books that for one reason or another fail to sell? There is, after all, a storage problem to deal with. They go to a book return company - some 25,000 a day at one firm in Essex - to be assessed. "Most are destined to be pulped. Almost 10 per cent of all newly published books end up being shredded. If your book is ever threatened with being remaindered, don't fret about it - there are worse fates." Sydney Morning Herald 03/29/02

RECORD PRICES FOR LINCOLN AND EINSTEIN DOCUMENTS: "An autographed manuscript of Abraham Lincoln’s last speech, delivered from the window of the White House three days before his assassination in 1865, was sold for $3,086,000 — the most ever paid for a U.S. historical document. Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning him of the potential for 'the construction of extremely powerful bombs,' which helped launch U.S. research leading to the development of the atomic bomb, was sold for $2.10 million, a record price for a letter." MSNBC 03/28/02

TIME MAY HAVE COME FOR AN UNAPPRECIATED GENRE: There are mysteries and westerns and sci-fi galore, but what happened to stories about the business world? As a category, it's lain fallow for decades; the few examples which come to mind have been mostly satire, or forgettable (or both). One reason may be that writers have turned up their noses at the materialism of corporate life, although they're latched onto materialism elsewhere with little trouble. "Why haven't business journalists filled the breach? Our hunch is a lack of imagination stands in the way at least as much the lack of time between deadlines." The Deal.com 03/28/02

Thursday March 28

NO-MAN'S LAND: Are book clubs a women's domain? "Every time I've tried to score a seat in a group, I've been blackballed. One of my best friends stared me and my request right in the eyes and burst out laughing. Another acquaintance invited me to join her group, which was suffering from attrition and malaise. I seemed like the perfect solution - until she learned that the club was no-man's land, literally. But the worst was the time my candidacy made it all the way to a full-group discussion and vote. I lost by a single nay. 'It was so close,' said one of my supporters. 'I think you would have gotten in if you were gay.' I'm learning to live with rejection." Salon 03/26/02

LATIN LEGACY: It is one of the great literary paradoxes of the last century that the nations of Latin America could have been plagued by so many vicious dictators and repressive regimes, and yet still produced so many successful and widely-read novelists. Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the most prolific and well-known, and, like so many of his contemporaries, he has spent his career treading the line between writing and politics. (Llosa even ran for president in his native Peru.) But to him, the spirit of Latin American writing is a special quality that has never been duplicated. The New York Times 03/28/02

Wednesday March 27

LIBRARIANS PROTEST NEW INTERNET CENSORSHIP ROLE: Librarians are protesting a US law that requires libraries to use filtering software on computers. "They want to offer patrons a choice between filtered and unfiltered Internet access, contending that parents and children should be the ones who determine what content they find unacceptable - not the government." The New York Times (AP) 03/26/02

ALCOTT'S LAST WORK LOOKING FOR A PUBLISHER: Louisa May Alcott's last work before her death at age 55 was a short story set in China, written as an attempt to gently rein in an unruly niece. The story has never been published without revisions and editings for space. "Now the original version is being offered to publishers with the deleted passages restored and with illustrations by May Alcott Nieriker. The purpose is to raise money for the restoration of Orchard House, the Alcott family home in Concord, [Massachusetts,] where Little Women takes place." The New York Times 03/27/02

Tuesday March 26

RETHINKING ARTS COVERAGE: The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times are in the midst of rethinking their arts coverage. "Should arts coverage be news or feature oriented? Should the emphasis be on 'high culture' or pop culture? To what degree should the demands of celebrity journalism be catered to? How should stories that link business to the arts be played?" Not surprisingly, many in the arts are watching with concern. Yahoo! (Reuters) 03/25/02

STIFF UPPER LIPS: German publishing is said to be in disarray. At last week's Leipzig Book Fair, "the urgency and determination with which publishers tried to exploit Leipzig for all it was worth were so palpable that the atmosphere at the fair was characterized by a strange mixture of defiance and lethargy, by the readiness to discuss and test new concepts in full view of the public as well as by the fear of still more bad news. The fact that most eyes remained glued to the balance sheet and that there was not the slightest evidence of any intellectual aversion to commercialism was as predictable as it was legitimate."  Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03/26/02

DUELING LIVES: Biographers are among the age's 'most successful literary realtors', as the poet Geoffrey Hill scornfully puts it, and biography continues to be an expanding genre, feeding the appetite for story left unsatisfied by so much modern fiction, addressing the whole human span, from beginnings to ends. So these tussles to dominate the market - to have a biography become, for a few years at least, the biography of the subject - will continue." London Evening Standard 03/25/02

EVERYBODY HATES ME: Author Salman Rushdie said in a German interview that he thinks the British press is out to discredit him. "These ambush writers are probably angry that I wasn't killed. They are holding a grudge against me for surviving the fatwa and that I'm now leading a better life." BBC 03/26/02

Monday March 25

GOOD YEAR FOR BOOKS: Sales for America's top three bookstore chains rose 3.7% to $7.51 billion, for the fiscal year ended February 2. Publishers Weekly 03/25/02

ITALY LEAVES BOOKFAIR: Italy officially withdrew from the Paris Book Show after demonstrators showed up protesting Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The fair was to honor the culture of Italy, but Berlusconi's right-center politics and some of his comments about culture have angered many. Washington Post (AP) 03/25/02

  • Previously: ITALY'S CRISIS OF LEADERSHIP: Italy's big cultural institutions are in political turmoil. Critics charge that the "centre-right Government of Silvio Berlusconi, which took office nine months ago, seems unable to find the right people to run Italy’s art centres, cultural institutes overseas, or even — and most damagingly — the Venice Film Festival in September." The Times (UK) 03/20/01

COPYING IN PERSPECTIVE: Just mention of the dreaded "p" word can send a writer's career into a spin. But "what is 'plagiarism'? and Why is it reprobated? These are important questions. The label 'plagiarist' can ruin a writer, destroy a scholarly career, blast a politician's chances for election, and cause the expulsion of a student from a college or university." Yet not all copying or borrowing of someone else's work is bad. Indeed we want to encourage it. The Atlantic 04/02

Sunday March 24

$$$ AS ATTENTION-GETTER: Canada is justifiably proud of its literary tradition, and has the big-money prizes to prove it. Buckets of 'em, in fact, which begs the question: what good does it do the literary world in general, and struggling but talented young writers in particular, when these large cash awards consistently go to writers who don't need the money? The truth may be that the only reason the prize money is as big as it is is to get the media to pay attention. Toronto Star 03/23/02

Friday March 22

DOMAIN GRAB THAT DOESN'T RHYME: The UK's Poetry Society has been running a successful website. But the organization forgot to renew the registration of its domain name www.poetrysoc.com, and "last Thursday, visitors to the society's website found not poetry but a directory of online service providers offering everything from Viagra pills to hair-loss treatments." Now the organization "faces a potentially expensive legal fight to get the name back." BBC 03/21/02 

Thursday March 21

THREE CRITICAL FLAVORS: Literary criticism is an attractive profession - the traits to be a good one are a fuzzy alchemy of skills that are difficult to quantify. Why do Germany's literary critics currently seem to come in one of three flavors - charlatans, fools or groupies. None is particularly enlightening. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03/21/02

WAITING FOR DIVERSITY: "Maybe the most important thing that ever happened in this country for Hispanics wanting to read relevant books was the 2000 census. It said, hey, publishers, there are 35.3 million Latinos out there. So book publishers started to awaken from the somnolence that often embraces them when it comes to the new and started to take notice. Awakened might be too strong a word, but things are slowly changing for Hispanic writers and their audience." The New York Times 03/21/02

SAVING MALCOLM: "Nearly 40 years after his death, the documentary legacy of Malcolm X is largely scattered and not controlled even by his family. Now that may change. The scare of the auction has sparked a renewed push by Malcolm X's daughters and the academics allied with them to finally gather, archive and preserve his papers and personal memorabilia." Washington Post 03/20/02

Tuesday March 19

PROMISE NO PRICE-FIXING: Last summer, the European Commission began investigating several German publishers and book traders, among them the Bertelsmann subsidiary Random House, of price fixing. Now the Commission says if the publishers promise to stop price fixing, they won't be fined. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03/18/02

AUTHORS HATE TO BE USED: In the past year online booksellers have been selling used books right next to their new copies. Within days of a new book being sold online, used copies also start turning up. Authors and publishers - who don't reap any money from such sales - are feeling abused. Wired 03/19/02

Monday March 18

ONE COUNTRY, ONE BOOK: Maybe New York can't agree on just one book for everyone to read. But Canada's CBC thinks it can get the whole country focused on one tome. "A panel of five eminent Canadians select one work of fiction for the country to read together. CBC Radio will broadcast the Canada Reads panel discussion twice daily from April 15 to 19." National Post 03/15/02

WRITER OF SLIGHT: Thomas Kinkade sells schlocky landscape paintings, "sold in thousands of mall-based franchise galleries nationwide," and earning "$130 million in sales last year." "According to Media Arts Group, the publicly traded company that sells Kinkade reproductions and other manifestations of 'the Thomas Kinkade lifestyle brand,' including furniture and other examples of what the company's chairman memorably called 'art-based products,' his work hangs in one out of every 20 American homes." Now Kinkade's "written" a novel, a "shamelessly money-grubbing little bait-and-switch" aesthetically in line with the rest of the Kinkade empire. Salon 03/17/02

Sunday March 17

BIG BAD TORONTO: Every country seems to have one - that city where power and prestige live and where its inhabitants are envied and disliked by the rest of the country. Toronto is Canada's. "The myths about Toronto publishing and Toronto writers make me laugh. We have all had massive six-figure advances, we all drive Porsches, we all write silly, superficial, gossipy literature, we all actually have no talent, we only get the massive advances because we live in Toronto." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/16/02

Friday March 15

COPY-BUSTER: Student plagiarism has been a thriving industry since the internet made it possible to digitally crib ready-made essays. But new software is becoming an effective cop. "After highlighting instances of replication, or obvious paraphrasing (according to Turnitin, some 30% of submitted papers are 'less than original'), the computer running the software returns the annotated document to the teacher who originally submitted it—leaving him with the final decision on what is and is not permissible." The Economist 03/14/02 

Thursday March 14

E-VICTORY: An appeals judge has ruled against Random House in a suit the publisher brought against an e-book publisher. RosettaBooks has been publishing e-versions of books Random House had published as far back as the 1960s. Rosetta says the original publishing contracts only covered print versions and Random House didn't own electronic rights. The US Appeals Court agrees. Random House vows to continue the case. Wired 03/13/02

CUTTING BACK BOOKS: In a cost-cutting move, the Philadelphia Inquirer has cut its weekly books section from four pages to one. "Sources close to the Inquirer say the book review section was gutted in response to corporate parent Knight Ridder's demand that the paper immediately reduce annual newsprint costs by $500,000. Reportedly, the Inquirer responded with a counter-offer to reduce newsprint costs by $350,000, which Knight Ridder agreed to." Philadelphia Weekly 03/13/02

HOW ABOUT DON CHERRY'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY? Chicago's "One Book, One Chicago" project, in which the entire city was encouraged to read the same book at the same time, has spawned a plethora of copycats across the U.S. Now, Canada is going Chicago one better, with a plan to mount a nationwide version of the project. The short list of potential books is out, with the one qualification being that every author considered must be Canadian. National Post (Canada) 03/14/02

Wednesday March 13

THE LATE MR SALINGER: The much anticipated publication of a "new" novella by JD Salinger has been postponed indefinitely. "The novella, Hapworth 16, 1924, was due to be published in November and would have been the first publication from Salinger in 40 years. The small Virginia publisher that Salinger had chosen to release the novella, Orchises Press, say that the book will eventually appear. But there is no new date for publication. The story originally appeared in magazine form in the New Yorker in 1965 and in the 1990s there were plans for a proper publication. An unkind early review in the New York Times is seen as a possible reason for the delay." The Guardian (UK) 03/13/02

Tuesday March 12

BOOK CIRCLE WINNERS: The National Book Critics Circle announced its annual awards Monday night. At the 27th annual awards ceremony in New York City, the critics honored Austerlitz, a novel by W.G. Sebald, as the best work of fiction. Sebald died in a car crash in December. Double Fold, a book about libraries' archiving procedures by Nicholson Baker, won for general nonfiction." The Plain Dearler (Cleveland) 03/12/02

HAMISH HENDERSON, 82: Scottish poet Hamish Hendson has died at the age of 82. "Henderson was, first and last, a poet, and poetry was for them both language rising into song, responsible to moment, people, place and joy. Not for Henderson Auden's conceit that poetry never made anything happen; he believed that 'poetry becomes people' and changes nations, that poetry elevates and gives expression to the deepest and best being of mankind, that poetry is a measure that extends far beyond the written word, that poetry is pleasure and a call to arms." The Guardian (UK) 03/11/02

Monday March 11

DUBLIN PRIZE FINALISTS: Finalists for the world's richest literary prize have been announced. "The contenders for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award 2002 include two Booker prize winners: Peter Carey's True History Of the Kelly Gang and Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin." BBC 03/11/02

Sunday March 10

THE COST OF STEALING: Plagiarism isn't just about the perpetrators. The writers whose work is stolen sometimes made enormous sacrifices to get their research to the page. One historian/writer extensively plagiarized by Stephen Ambrose has spent a career of hardship researching his work for books about World War II. It's like having your life stolen. Baltimore Sun 03/10/02

  • MATHEMATICALLY PLAGIARISTIC: "John L. Casti, a science writer who teaches at the Technical University of Vienna and at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, has been accused of lifting a substantial number of extended passages from other sources in his latest book, "Mathematical Mountaintops: The Five Most Famous Problems of All Time" (Oxford, 2001). Mr. Casti's book, written for the lay reader, describes mathematicians' explorations of complicated ideas involving maps, numbers and spaces. But along the way Mr. Casti's research apparently got a bit out of hand." The New York Times 03/09/02

Friday March 8

GATSBY IS TOPS: A new survey of top authors, critics, and actors has declared that Jay Gatsby is the greatest literary character of the 20th century, narrowly edging Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye fame. Vladimir Nabokov's Humbert Humbert makes the list as well, but, in a stunning snub, Douglas Adams's Arthur Dent is nowhere to be found. National Post (AP) 03/08/02

GOODWIN HITS BACK: Speaking at a Saint Paul college, embattled historian Doris Kearns Goodwin insisted that her reputation will survive the current plagiarism charges being leveled against her. While admitting that she had made grave mistakes in allowing unattributed passages to make their way into her books, she declared, "I know absolutely that I have dealt fairly and honestly with all my subjects." Minneapolis Star Tribune 03/08/02

Thursday March 7

ALL PART OF THE (BOOK) DEAL: "In our luminary-fascination society, the book deal is an accouterment to instant or durable celebrity, so reflexive a part of fame that when people see a new name in the news they just know a book is sure to pop up. And usually they are right. With a few notable exceptions, there is little to be said for the value of these books. Still, they have always been one of publishing's sexiest genres. People apparently are both fascinated and appalled by the large money advances they bring." The New York Times 03/07/02

DOES IT TAKE A CITY TO READ A BOOK? One novelist doesn't like the let's-all-read-the-same-book phenomenon. "Now comes a committee of 21 professional book salesmen and librarians who are going to burst right into my reading life and tell me what to read so I can talk about it with my neighbors. For all its impressive credentials, this campaign is just another form of advertising. [W]hy stop with books? Why don't the movie professionals prescribe a movie for us to see and the health professionals a diet and the fashion professionals a set of clothes? Why don't we wear uniforms? Why don't we all eat the same breakfast?" Newsday 02/06/02

BUT I THOUGHT EVERYONE BOUGHT 17,000 COPIES OF HIS OWN BOOK: David Vise wanted to promote his book. So he went on tour, appeared on TV shows, set up a web site. All the usual stuff. Then he went one step further. "Vise also bought between 16,000 and 18,000 copies of his own book from an online bookseller, Barnesandnoble.com, and then returned most of them in a confusing series of transactions. This unusual tactic has prompted suspicions that he was trying to manipulate bestseller lists by creating phantom sales, which Vise firmly denies." Washington Post 02/07/02

Wednesday March 6

SPEAKING ABOUT WRITING: There are so many book festivals in Australia now that writers spend a good part of their time speaking about their work. "There are a lot of writers who feel uncomfortable about it, embarrassed that what they have to do is give a performance which is neither related to the writing nor their real self." The Age (Melbourne) 03/06/02

CHAMPIONING THE UNDERGROUND: Is the literary establishment corrupt, awarding its prizes and grants and favors to one another? The Underground Literary Alliance thinks so. The newly-formed group has been attacking what it considers injustices of the system - writers who are awarded NEA grants and then sit on panels to award other grants, wealthy recipients of awards intended to go to writers who need a basic income so they can write..."It's a kind of advocacy group to stand up for writers, and the interests of underground writers, number one, but maybe writers in general also. You do have writers organizations out there, but they revolve around writers who don't need help." MobyLives 03/05/02

CANADIAN SELF-CONGRATULATION: Canada is famous for its constant hand-wringing over the state of its culture. And who wouldn't be a bit edgy (and nationalistic) with America right next door oozing its big low-culture butt into your chair every time you turn around? So when a new set of awards for Canadian culture pops up, as seems to happen every couple of minutes, most see it as a good thing. This week, a new slate of literary prizes has been inaugurated in Toronto, and organizers openly tout their belief in Canadian global literary dominance. National Post (CP) 03/06/02

DEGREES OF WRONGNESS: Let's not lump the plagiarizing transgressions of historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose together. Goodwin "admirably insists that 'professional standards for historians need never be sacrificed in popular history' and has conscientiously tried to protect her reputation. Ambrose has in effect conceded that his writing isn't scholarship—and thus has felt free to shrug off his critics." Slate 03/05/02

BOOKER WINNER JAILED: "The Booker prize-winning author, Arundhati Roy, has been sentenced to a symbolic one-day prison term and fined 2,000 rupees ($42) after being found guilty of contempt of court. India's Supreme Court made the ruling in connection with remarks she made about a legal decision to allow work on the controversial Narmada Dam project." BBC 03/06/02

Tuesday March 5

BEWARE OF TECHNOLOGY: Disney chief Michael Eisner told the Association of American Publishers that technology is one of their biggest threats. "Eisner charged that technologists have been dragging their feet in developing methods to block piracy, while they sell equipment that abets illegally copying. Eisner said that while he favors letting the private sector try to find a solution to illegally copying, the government may need to step in if technology companies do not begin addressing the issue more aggressively." Publishers Weekly 03/04/02 

THE SECOND GUTENBERG REVOLUTION: Gutenberg's Bible signaled a revolution in the dissemination of information back in the 16th century. Now it signals another. The Library of Congress, which owns one of three copies of the Bible, has started a project to "photograph, scan and digitize every binding, endsheet and page of the three-volume Bible. 'We're hoping to take digital technology as far as it goes and bring this book to life. We hope to make this book more accessible than even Gutenberg did'." Wired 03/04/02 

Monday March 4

DEFENDING THE SELF-PUBLISHED: Why do so many critics treat self-publishing as if it were the greatest threat to an intelligent society? "The sheer magnitude and intensity of vitriol poured upon those who would dare to enter the holy realm of the published seems totally out of proportion with its object. Self-published books are truly the snuff pornography of the publishing world: universally condemned as crude, exploitative, offensive, and even dangerous, while at the same time rarely if ever seen." GoodReports 03/03/02

ALTERNATIVE PRESS: Unable to agree on a single book for New Yorkers to read (following the example of several American cities), last week New York got competing everybody-read-the-same-book programs. "The New York Women's Agenda, a coalition of women's groups, decided to go its own way and organize an alternative citywide reading program, to be called New York Reads, scheduled for September to coincide with the start of the school year." Chicago Tribune 03/04/02

GOING AFTER DORIS: As stories in the press mount up about plagiarizing historians, some anonymous tipsters seem to have a particular in for Doris Kearns Goodwin. "It's hard not to believe there isn't something sexist about the relentless lambasting Goodwin's getting," writes MobyLives' Dennis Johnson of the anonymous e-mails he's been getting about Goodwin. MobyLives 03/04/02

Sunday March 3

CENSORSHIP OR EDITING? When a prominent Oxford professor was asked to write a piece on Tony Blair by the London Review of Books, he turned in a piece praising the Prime Minister for his conduct since September 11. Did the magazine kill the piece because editors didn't like the politics? The Guardian 03/02/02  

Friday March 1

PRESSURE TO PLAGIARIZE: Why are respected historians plagiarizing other people's work? "There is some truth to the claim that trade publishing has become a harried, assembly-line operation with its head on the block. Only serial blockbusters can stay the ax man's hand. Thus many books have become as formulaic and shoddy as the flicks that Hollywood churns out. Publishers and writers are desperate to cash in on the latest craze, be it baseball, the founding fathers or jihad. Their livelihoods depend on it." Los Angeles Times 02/28/02

  • AN EXPLANATION (BARELY), NOT AN EXCUSE: "Books are the products of artisans and artists, and this doesn't allow for them to be mass-produced at their creation like toasters that some assembly line puts together out of these and those parts gathered from here and there. If writers do want to try to run a factory, fine: just as long as they use their own raw materials." The New York Times 02/28/02

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