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MAY 2001

Thursday May 31

WILL SUCCESS SPOIL LITERARY FANTASY?The success of fantasy novels like Harry Potter has attracted waves of new writers ready to supply fantasy product. But is success killing the magic? "Commodified fantasy takes no risks: it invents nothing, but imitates and trivializes. It proceeds by depriving the old stories of their intellectual and ethical complexity, turning their action to violence, their actors to dolls, and their truth-telling to sentimental platitude." Slate 05/30/01

CAN YOU GET ROYALTIES FROM A DICTATOR? Canadian artist Jonathon Bowser was shocked to learn that one of his paintings was used for the cover of a romantic allegory written by Saddam Hussein. In it, Hussein "portrays himself as a benevolent king bestowing love on his people." Says Bowser: "Where are my royalties, that's what I want to know. A romantic allegory isn't necessarily bad, I just would have chosen a different author." National Post (Canada) 05/30/01

Wednesday May 30

WRITERS' SANCTUARY: Nigeria has offered itself up as a sanctuary for writers in trouble. "To date, it has offered asylum to 32 international authors, filmmakers, composers and journalists." CBC 05/29/01

WANT TO COLLABORATE WITH MARK TWAIN? Like most writers, Mark Twain left unpublished work. One piece is a story intended as a collaborative experiment with other writers. It went nowhere. Now the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, which owns rights to the story, has renewed the experiment, with cash prizes for those who come up with the best ending to Twain's story. CBC 05/29/01

Tuesday May 29

BOOKS HOLDING STEADY: Compared to newspaper and magazine publishing, the book-selling business seems to be weathering the economic downturn in pretty good shape. In the first quarter of this year "bookstore sales at Barnes & Noble increased 4.3%, to $807.9 million. At Books-a-Million, total revenues rose 4.7%, to $97.5 million, but comparable-store sales were down 6.8% in the quarter, largely due to the strong performance of Pokémon products last year." Publishers Weekly 05/28/01

DO BOOK CLUBS KILL FICTION? Blame the boring uniformity of today's fiction on the Book Club Phenomenon. So many "literary" books tend to look so alike because publishers are thinking about whether book clubs will buy them. The Independent (UK) 05/28/01

CHARACTER ASSASSINATION: French heirs of writer Victor Hugo are furious over a new sequel to Les Miserables, Hugo's best-known work. They're going to court to block publication. "We do not consider this a sequel, but a rewriting. It's not a sequel when you resurrect characters. Just because the book is in the public domain, it doesn't mean you can do what you like with it." The New York Times 05/29/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Monday May 28

WIND HITS THE PRESSES: Armed with an appeals court's permission to publish, Houghton Mifflin is anticipating an initial print run of 25,000 for The Wind Done Gone. But the parody's legal troubles may not be over just yet. Inside.com 05/25/01

WHAT THEY'RE READING IN AUSTRALIA: In book sales for the past year, it's just like everywhere else - Harry Potter. JK Rowling's Harry sagas took the top four places on the bestseller list. The Age (Melbourne) 05/28/01

Sunday May 27

BLOWIN' IN THE WIND: A federal appeals court has cleared the way for publication of The Wind Done Gone, a novel that parodies, and borrows liberally from, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. The ruling reverses a lower court decision blocking publication. Nando Times (AP) 05/26/01

Thursday May 24

THE E-FUTURE: Is there an audience for e-books? "Subscription, pay-per-view, ad-supported - online publishing will only succeed when there are many business models, and publishers and users can choose the appropriate model for their needs." Publishers Weekly 05/21/01

DUMPING AMIS AND DISSING THE NOVEL: Judges for the Samuel Johnson non-fiction award pushed Martin Amis off their short list in favor of a book about trilobites. Then they claimed that there was "huge public appetite and excitement for non-fiction at the moment which is not matched by that for the novel." The Guardian (UK) 05/24/01

Wednesday May 23

MAYBE HE'LL MOVE THE SCROLL TO BALTIMORE: Jack Kerouac's original manuscript for On the Road was sold at auction for $2.43 million yesterday, more than $1 million over the expected sale price. The manuscript is written on one continuous roll of paper. Oh, and the winning bidder? That would be Jim Irsay, best known as the owner of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. MSNBC 05/23/01

THE SATIRE DONE GONE? With the US District Court decision blocking publication of The Wind Done Gone, many professional satirists are wondering just what precedent has been set. The Court had previously allowed purveyors of parody a wide berth when it came to lifting material, but the new ruling could change everything. Hartford Courant 05/23/01

JUST PROVE IT: A site that has been tracking sales of e-published books begins to doubt the accuracy of numbers supplied by publishers. Some refuse verification of royalty payments, so now some of the formerly-best-sellers have been removed from the list. Wired 05/22/01

WRITING ON THE WALL? The legendary Writer's Voice program at New York's West Side YMCA, "an unusually fertile training ground for writers," has announced it was canceling its summer programs. But a recent troubled history of management and rumor has many wondering if the program will ever resume. They worry that a "20-year-old community institution whose students and professors have included the likes of Pulitzer winner Michael Cunningham, Walter Mosley, and Sue Miller" will be lost forever. Village Voice 05/22/01

Tuesday May 22

THE CHANGING 'WIND': "This Friday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta will rule on whether or not Judge Charles Pannell was right to ban publication of first-time novelist Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone, "a parody ... from the slaves' point of view" (the description is Randall's) of Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel, Gone With the Wind, that had been scheduled for publication in June." National Post (Canada) 05/22/01

Monday May 21

THE NEXT CHAPTER: Troubled Canadian book superstore Chapters is downsizing to try to solve its money woes. But "why should Chapters have its wings clipped? Just because it expanded far too rapidly? Just because it targeted and drove independent bookstores out of business? Just because it strong-armed and bullied publishers? Just because it returned books by the truckload? Just because it delayed payment of its bills until publishers and authors alike teetered on the edge of bankruptcy? Just because its doomed course - iceberg? what iceberg? - might well have dragged a sizable chunk of Canadian publishing down to the bottom with it?" The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/21/01

HIT THE ROAD JACK: The manuscript of Jack Kerouac's On the Road is to be auctioned off this week, and scholars are unhappy. "The item is unique among works of 20th-century literature because, rather than a stack of typed pages, the manuscript is a continuous 37-metre scroll of heavy tracing paper. 'The scroll is the most important document in the entire Kerouac archives, and it shouldn't be separated from the rest of the archives'." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/21/01

EVEN IF YOU PAY... There are lots of problems with the magazine Foreword's announcement it will review books for authors at a cost of $295. "It's obvious that ForeWord won't get much business from the publishers it claims it means to serve. See, ForeWord reviews will be worthless unless they seem objective, and so they're going to have to be negative on occasion. Do you think publishers are going to pay for bad reviews? Big publishers don't need to, and small publisher don't have the money to waste." Mobylives 05/21/01

Sunday May 20

UNRELIABLE SOURCES: Critics seem to be wrong just about as often as they're right. From the archives of publisher Alfred A. Knopf, the reviews of readers considering what books to publish, show serious lapses in judgment. The Observer (UK) 05/20/01

Friday May 18

iPUBLISH = iHIGHWAY ROBBERY? The Writers' Guild is warning its members to stay away from iPublish, the digital imprint of TimeWarner Books. The Guild claims that iPublish's standard contract forces authors to give up too many rights. Wired 05/18/01

VOLCANIC VERSE: Tomaz Salamun is one of Eastern Europe's most celebrated poets, yet he views himself as a "monster." His bleak, sometimes violent poems reflect the harsh landscape of the wartorn region he hails from, and he seems to consider his art as much a weapon as a mode of expression. "Poetry makes a human being more human, but it can also dehumanize, like a big passion, a horrible obsession driven by laws that are beyond the human." San Jose Mercury News (AP) 05/18/01

Thursday May 17

MISERABLES II - GAVROCHE STRIKES BACK: "Descendants of Victor Hugo, outraged by a contemporary sequel to his 1862 novel "Les Miserables," urged France and the European Parliament on Tuesday to condemn the commercial misuse of literary classics... 'Does anyone think someone could commission a Tenth Beethoven Symphony?' they asked in an open letter." Chicago Tribune 05/17/01

Wednesday May 16

BAD FOR BOOKS: It's been a miserable few years for the Canadian book industry. "The situation, in which the industry has been hit by much heavier than usual returns - as staggeringly high as 60% in some cases - has undergone a bewildering sense of disorientation, and has experienced an agonizing feeling of betrayal, and can only get better." Publishers Weekly 05/14/01

RULES OF LIFE: How truthful should biographies attempt to be? "It is striking that while biography itself goes in and out of fashion with critics and publishers (not long ago, it was being asserted in publishing circles that the bottom had dropped out of the biography market: popular history was all the rage), the debate over the rules or ethics of writing life stories never dies away." New Statesman 05/14/01

WORDS OF THE AGES: Do writers get better with age? "The older an author gets, the easier it is for them to leave behind the preoccupations of their youth, to invent freely and explore with ambition. Thus the long-distance author shape-shifts in mid-career." The Guardian (UK) 05/16/01

RECORD PRICE FOR CELINE MANUSCRIPT: The French National Library, exercising a right to match private bids, paid 11 million French francs ($1.5 million) for the hand-written first draft copy of Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night. It is believed to be a record for a manscript auction. Chicago Sun-Times (AP) 05/16/01

DRAT! WE GOTTA REPRINT ALL THOSE HISTORY BOOKS: There are data to suggest that Columbus actually reached the New World in 1485, on a mission from the Vatican. What about that 1492 thing? Just a return voyage, say the believers. "The story of the discovery of America is filled with misinformation. Simply, it is a great marketing operation by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain." Discovery 05/15/01

Tuesday May 15

FIRST TIME'S A CHARM: First-time Canadian author Alistair McLeod wins the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award - literature's richest prize at $172,000 CDN. CBC 05/14/01

Monday May 14

READING DROPOUTS: An alarming number of Americans is choosing not to read, says a new study. "We pride ourselves on being a largely literate First World country while at the same time we rush to build a visually powerful environment in which reading is not required. The results are inevitable. Aliteracy is all around. Washington Post 05/14/01

LIFE OF THE PARTY: Academics have generally distrusted writers of biographies. "Although biographers do pretty much the same thing as academics - they go to libraries, find stuff out, and then publish books about it - the two camps have always kept themselves stiffly to themselves, held apart by a barely disguised tangle of envy, suspicion and defensive superiority." Those attitudes may be thawing. New Statesman 05/14/01

WORDS MATTER: A little book on writing, written in the 1950s, reminds that "the right words arranged in the right order can be weapons, that culture and education are political and that good, radical ideas have a curious ability to elude the spin doctors." The Observer (UK) 05/13/01

THE FAN LIBRARIAN: With the internet, a new kind of "librarian" emerges. Fans of authors collect up everything available on their heroes. "Each is part fan, part archivist, part technician, using the resources of the Web to pay tribute to an author he or she loves. It's a unique joining of the old fashioned with the up to the minute: for with these sites, as with creation itself, in the beginning was the word." Boston Globe 05/14/01

Sunday May 13

A TRULY HOOPY FROOD PASSES ON: Douglas Adams, author of the sci-fi cult classic book trilogy "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" has died of a heart attack at age 49. There is no word on who inherits his towel. Nando Times (AP) 05/12/01

  • AND A FRIEND REMEMBERS HIM: "To his friends Douglas Adams will be remembered as a giant of a man with a kindness to match. But to his fans I think he will be seen as someone who brought wit into science fiction. With the greatest respect to Gene Roddenberry and others, that had not been done before." The Observer (London) 05/13/01

Friday May 11

CAN'T HANG ON TO THEM: Amazon claims 32 million customers. But is it true? An analyst says the company is losing customers fast. "Amazon lost 2.3 million customers in the quarter ended March 31, while adding 3 million first-time shoppers." Bookwire (USAToday) 05/09/01

Thursday May 10

NAME GAME: A work of art scarcely exists without a name, a title, something to call it that will place it where it's supposed to be. So what happens when nothing comes to mind? Poets & Writers 05/01

INVISIBLE AUTHOR: "Don DeLillo is, in every way, what undergraduate literature courses dub a Major Author. Yet he is also an essentially invisible author, largely unread by and unknown to not simply the vast majority of Americans, but the vast majority of well-educated Americans, most of whom have never read one of his books and could not name even one of his many memorable characters. His situation thus represents something of a mystery." Reason 05/01

BUYOUT: So now a website is offering authors the opportunity to buy reviews. What's the point, wonders Alex Good. "Whether a book that does get a paid review will be any better off is doubtful. With all of the stigma that attaches to self-publishing and e-publishing, one can imagine an even more negative response to this kind of reviewing, with its obvious violation of canons of objectivity." And do reviews make a difference, anyway? GoodReports 05/10/01

Wednesday May 9

AIM FOR THE CENTER: "A society in which literature has been relegated - like some hidden vice - to the margins of social and personal life, and transformed into something like a sectarian cult, is a society condemned to become spiritually barbaric, and even to jeopardize its freedom. I wish to offer a few arguments against the idea of literature as a luxury pastime." The New Republic 05/08/01

PAID REVIEWS: Only about 10 percent of the some 70,000 books published annually are ever reviewed professionally. So now you can buy one. "Any publisher or author can buy a review through a website for $295. Included in the price is the right to print the review in any marketing or publicity effort, lifetime archival of the review on-site, and distribution to numerous licensees." Wired 05/09/01

A BOOK IS A BOOK OF COURSE OF COURSE: Random House is suing e-publisher RosettaBooks for publishing electronic versions of books Random had previously published. The original contracts assigned "book rights" to Random. So do electrons constitute a book? Some heavy definitions are in order... Inside.com 05/09/01

PSYCHIATRISTS, LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, LOVE HARRY POTTER: "The children's book character makes mistakes, but he comes through in the end. He not only survived an abusive childhood in the home of hateful relatives, but he came out with hope and an ability to love." Dallas Morning News 05/09/01

Tuesday May 8

THE WIND IS MISERABLES? "Call it parody, plagiarism or sequelization, once-upon-a-time-one-more-time is the idea for a spate of recent books. Of course, literary borrowing isn't exactly new - Aeschylus borrowed from Homer; Shakespeare borrowed many plots." Los Angeles Times 05/07/01

THE DOWNSIDE OF THE e-SLUSH PILE? Electronic publishing has held out the promise that authors can more easily get their work out to an audience. But "there has been a surprising backlash against writers being able to make their work so readily available. Many voices have been raised, saying that all this is a bad thing. A very bad thing." Is it? Complete Review 05/01

THE RETURN OF SHORT STORIES? Why aren't more short stories published? Publishers are convinced that short fiction, like poetry, is a refined form that is, "essentially, too snooty to attract a large audience, and they're not going to publish any more of the stuff than is absolutely necessary to give one of their writers or themselves the faintest of literary veneers." Nonetheless, are there are signs of a possible revival? Mobylives.com 05/07/01

Monday May 7

LITTLE THINGS MATTER: Why are newspapers cutting their books sections? "Information about books is hard to come by. If one knows exactly what one is looking for, then of course it is fairly easy. But one of the great things about book review sections and magazines is that one comes across information about titles one never knew existed, or titles one had not considered in the proper light." The Complete Review 05/01

INTERRUPTING THE CULTURE OF THE PRINTED PAGE: Just why are libraries destroying books and newspapers after preserving them electronically? The information contained on pages may thus be preserved, but such destruction is an interruption in the culture of reading pages. Are not the artifacts at least as important as the representations of them? The Idler 05/07/01

ATLANTIC CUTS BACK: Recent years have seen a slew of "old-guard" magazines being taken over by famous editors, causing long-time readers no small amount of trepidation. When Michael Kelly came to The Atlantic last year, he promised a cosmetic facelift, but no change in the historic monthly's editorial direction. Now comes news that the July and August issues will be combined, and the worried speculation starts all over again. The New York Times 05/07/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Sunday May 6

TAKING OFF ON THE WIND: Why is the parody version of Gone with the Wind in legal trouble? "Though clumsy, self-important and sometimes laughably silly, The Wind Done Gone ardently contests the romanticized view of the antebellum South set down in Gone With the Wind and proposes an Afrocentric version of history in its stead. It is both a commentary on an iconic work of fiction and a repudiation of that novel's worldview." There is a long literary tradition of doing this. The New York Times 05/05/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE NEW EMPEROR: Dave Eggers is a one-man literary juggernaut. From his successful novel, to his snide, caustic, website McSweeney's, to his own personal publishing house, Eggers has become the under-30 answer to Ted Turner: an undeniably brilliant but self-possessed mind dragging the world kicking and screaming into the next incarnation of entertainment and information, a place where the world is not entirely sure it wants to go. The New York Times 05/06/01 (one-time registration required for access)

CONFLICTING INTERESTS? A reporter's investigation and some subsequent resignations rock the Hollywood Reporter. The issue points up some of the difficulties when the industry you cover is also the industry that buys your ads. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/05/01

Friday May 4

DEUX TOO MUCH: The family of French writer Victor Hugo are trying to block publication of a book that has been dubbed "Les Miserables II." "The novel, which has been described as a blasphemous betrayal by its critics, contains many of the characters from Hugo's famous portrayal of social injustice in revolutionary France." BBC 05/04/01

ACCESSIBLY RARE: Only a few scholars and wealthy collectors have access to rare manuscripts and book. They're too fragile to be handled. "Providing access to rare books while trying to preserve them is 'the biggest problem libraries (with special collections) have." Digital technology may help. Wired 05/03/01

HUNDRED-MILLION HARRY: Sales of the Harry Potter books have passed the 100 million mark worldwide. Harry has been translated into 42 languages. Ottawa Citizen (AP) 05/04/01

Wednesday May 2

THINK OF IT AS PIZZA FOR YOUR BRAIN: "Last week, Cathy Kelly became the Romantic Novelist of the Year, winning 5,000 and very little respect from the critics. This is par for the course in the world of romantic fiction: you earn a lot and die unnoticed... All the genre novels have a hard time in literary circles... but special abuse is reserved for the romantic novel. It's the junk food of the literary appetite." The Guardian (London) 05/01/01

Tuesday May 1

A CELEBRATION OF WHAT? National Poetry Month was a real bust. All it did was focus attention on how much disrepair the art of poetry is in. Why are things so bad? "The dullness of today's poetry has become so pervasive, such a given, that we have to force ourselves to remember that poetry is not at all dull by nature." GoodReports 05/01/01

VOICE OF THE CITY: Twenty-five years ago, Armistead Maupin signed on with a San Francisco paper to write a daily fiction serial focusing on the lives of singles, both gay and straight, in the City by the Bay. Such openness was nearly unheard of at the time, but "Tales of the City" struck a public chord, and catapulted Maupin into the ranks of the superstar authors. San Francisco Chronicle 05/01/01

AFTER A LONG THINK: Just as the new Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism was about to go to print, it was discovered that the tome was about 300 pages too long. "After two weeks of debate and intellectual horse-trading, a new table of contents emerged. Twenty-one thinkers, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Elaine Showalter, vanished from the collection entirely; selections from three others were trimmed." Chronicle of Higher Education 04/30/01

HOW TO BE GREAT: Why are the Great Books great? "It does not rest on William Bennett's assertion that the great is great because 'it is the best that has been thought and said.' The greatness of the great does not and cannot rest on a question-begging platitude." Context 04/01

CALLING ALL AUTHORS: "IPublish.com is a combination publishing house, bookstore, writing school, online writing community, talent search show and lecture hall all in one. And integrating all those elements into one site has taken the better part of a year." Wired 04/30/01

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