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MAY 2002

Friday May 31

WALSER CONDEMNED/DEFENDED: Critics are condemning Martin Walser's new book as anti-semitic. "The book is about a wounded author's supposed murder of a high-profile Jewish book reviewer, obviously modeled on the prominent critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki." Walser's publisher has "rejected the suggestion that it is an obvious roman clef," saying that "comparing literature to reality has nothing to do with literary criticism, only with malice." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/30/02

  • WALSER DEFENDS: "I would never, never, never have thought that this book would now be set in the context of the Holocaust. Believe me, I would never have written it in that case." The Guardian (UK) 05/30/02
  • Previously: CHARACTER ASSASSINATION: Prominent German writer Martin Walser proposed to editors of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the newspaper serialize his new novel. Instead, one of the paper's editors writes an extraordinary open letter to Walser declining the offer, and accusing the writer of vicious anti-semitism. "It is important to you, you said, that it appear in this particular newspaper. I must inform you that your novel will not appear in this newspaper. May the critics decide how good or bad this book is in terms of lasting value. 'Even a bad Walser is an event,' a well-known editor once said. Your novel is an execution, in which you settle the score with - and let us drop the smoke screen of fictitious names from the start - Marcel Reich-Ranicki. It is about the murder of a prominent critic." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/28/02

JUMPING ON JONATHAN: Jonathan Foer's debut book has become a literary sensation. But is the hype all because of his age (25) and the astounding advance ($400,000) he got? "A backlash was inevitable: the bookselling website Amazon is full of vicious comments saying Foer's success owed little to talent and much to his youth and excellent connections (his brother is an editor for the New Republic magazine, his creative writing teachers were literary luminaries Joyce Carol Oates and Russell Banks, both of whom provided fulsome quotes for the blurb). The publishing industry was accused of over-hyping Foer, at the expense of others." The Telegraph (UK) 05/31/02

Thursday May 30

CANADIANS PROTEST AMAZON PLANS: "The book industry is abuzz with rumours that Amazon will set up a Canadian subsidiary this year in partnership with a Canadian firm. Government rules say booksellers must be Canadian-controlled, forcing anyone interested in the market to find a Canadian partner. The Canadian Booksellers Association says that cannot be allowed to happen." National Post (Canada) 05/28/02

BRINGING JOYCE BACK TO IRELAND: Ireland's National Library has bought a collection of 500 papers by novelist James Joyce. "The rare collection, believed to be the largest of its kind - includes unseen drafts of the classic book Ulysses." BBC 05/30/02

Wednesday May 29

CHARACTER ASSASSINATION: Prominent German writer Martin Walser proposed to editors of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the newspaper serialize his new novel. Instead, one of the paper's editors writes an extraordinary open letter to Walser declining the offer, and accusing the writer of vicious anti-semitism. "It is important to you, you said, that it appear in this particular newspaper. I must inform you that your novel will not appear in this newspaper. May the critics decide how good or bad this book is in terms of lasting value. 'Even a bad Walser is an event,' a well-known editor once said. Your novel is an execution, in which you settle the score with - and let us drop the smoke screen of fictitious names from the start - Marcel Reich-Ranicki. It is about the murder of a prominent critic." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/28/02

Tuesday May 28

A FEW NEW STATISTICS ON READING: A new Scottish study reports that people spend an average of only 11 minutes a day reading novels. "Fiction has now been overtaken by newspapers as the most popular reading material, research by the Orange Prize for Fiction has claimed. It also said 40 per cent of the population do not read books at all. Researchers said that people spend only six hours a week reading, compared with three hours a day watching television." The Scotsman 05/27/02

SEPARATION ANXIETY: "There comes a point in the writing process when a novel turns a corner, after which it is no longer a work of fiction. The events are as real as anything the author has seen on TV or read about in a newspaper, and the characters have as solid an existence as anyone outside his immediate circle of family and friends." This makes it hard when you finally have to pak up your new friends and send them off to a publisher. "No author is immune to the empty-nest syndrome, the aching, psychic void as he fidgets from room to room like a reformed smoker, staring at his trembling hands, full of fresh air, fingers bitten to the quick." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/28/02

INFERIORITY COMPLEX? British writers have been protesting the decision to open up the Booker Prize to include American writers. Writers from the Commonwealth need something of their own, they say, and the Americans would dominate the competition. But such arguments "tell us more about a certain British cultural inferiority complex than about the nation's literature. The notion that American writers exist in another league is fatuous, cringing. The protestation of British inadequacy, said Robert McCrum, literary editor of the newspaper the Observer, is 'quasi-philistine, provincial and rather embarrassing'." San Francisco Chronicle 05/28/02

Monday May 27

TO CATCH A THIEF: William Simon Jacques is one of the great book thieves in history. Since 1990 he stole hundreds of rare books from some of Britain's great libraries. "The total value of the books Jacques stole is around 1.1 million. Many were damaged in an attempt to disguise their origins. Whole collections within those libraries have been devastated. Hundreds of the books have still not been recovered." Here's how he was caught. The Observer (UK) 05/26/02

Sunday May 26

TALKING ABOUT BOOKS: The rise of the literary festival to the point where it plays a significant part in publishing economics is a fairly recent phenomenon. If the literary festival represents the public face of contemporary letters, then it also doubles up as the chief agency for establishing its hierarchies and pecking orders." The Guardian (UK) 05/25/02

TOP HEAVY: A critic takes issue with the notion of ranking the top 100 books of all time. "We live in a time of lists. That's why we like awards so much: They tell us who the best writers are. That's what we want to know: Who has the highest score. Never mind that a list of favourite books of the year, arrived at by much compromise after a discussion among three or four entirely human judges, has about as much historical significance as a list of My Favourite X-Box Games." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/25/02

Friday May 24

THE NEW PUBLISHING: Each year, about 3,500 novels are published. "While the main advantage to being published by a big press is the distribution, marketing, promotion, and visibility it can offer, all too often that kind of attention is only bestowed upon the clearly commercial novel that is already earmarked to be a winner, usually because of the author's previous performance. Sessalee Hensley, fiction buyer for all 582 Barnes & Noble superstores, says the sad truth is that only 10 percent of books get any serious marketing or PR support." Now a new publishing model is taking hold. Poets & Writers 05/02

JUST SAY NO (TO WRITING SCHOOLS): Are writing schools a good way to teach writing? Probably not. What they do is provide a group that the solitary writer can belong to. But there are downsides. "The short story, I'd hazard, has been much diminished in Canada, where it has been subsumed to the purposes of the MFA schools. Too often, what we're getting these days are short pieces of fiction and not short stories. Professional samples, really." National Post 05/24/02

Thursday May 23

BLASTING THE BOOKER: The expected protests over plans to open the Booker Prize to Americans have begun. "The chairwoman of this year's Booker judging panel, Lisa Jardine, raged that 'the Booker will become as British an institution as English muffins in US supermarkets ... more blandly generic as opposed to specifically British. This will completely change the character of the prize'." Why is it happening? " The Man Group, a new sponsor, has more than doubled the value of the prize this year to 50,000 ($A131,189) but, seeking greater international prominence and book sales, has insisted that US writers should be eligible by 2004." The Age (Melbourne) 05/23/02

  • A COMMONWEALTH INSTITUTION: "Corporate branding is a bad way to justify radical changes to a literary competition that has become a much-loved institution. The Booker has nurtured talent in the Commonwealth and Ireland that might not otherwise have emerged and which could easily be smothered amid a landslide of books from the US." The Guardian (UK) 05/23/02
  • TOO MANY PRACTICAL DIFFICULTIES: "How to open the competition to another literary continent, yet keep the long list down to manageable proportions? At the moment judges must read about 130 novels in a year, surely as many as an honest intellectual can ever manage. So there will have to be sieving, or pre-judging, especially given the ruthlessness of the big US publishers, hungry for hype. What chance now for those unknowns - the bus-driver with his first novel - making it through to at least temporary fame?" The Guardian (UK) 05/23/02
  • A STUPID IDEA BUT... "Commonwealth fiction is as good as American fiction, and doesn't seem in any danger of being swamped. Furthermore, it can be argued (and most recently has been argued by Stephen Henighan), that there already exists a globalized literary culture that has replaced most national and regional voices. Are Salman Rushdie or Peter Carey, both Booker winners, Commonwealth writers? They both live in New York City, which is also where Rushdie's last novel, the execrable Fury, was set." Good Reports 05/22/02

Wednesday May 22

BRINGING THE BOOKER TO AMERICA? England's Booker Prize, the nation's most prestigious literary award, is considering a plan to expand the entrant pool to include American authors. Supporters say the expansion would only increase the profile of the competition, but others worry that the Booker could lose its "Englishness," and point out that the plan comes on the heels of a new sponsorship for the prize from a company rumored to be looking for ways to make inroads in the U.S. BBC 05/22/02

ACCLAIM BUT NO SALES: Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children has got all the promotional and critical boosts an author could want. Yet "data from the research marketing firm Bookscan suggest Creating a Life has sold fewer than 8,000 copies. The peculiar fate is the publishing world's mystery of the year. How could a book with such exposure — on the hot-button topic of reconciling motherhood and career — sell so abysmally?" The New York Times 05/21/02

Tuesday May 21

KEEPING TABS: One of a librarian's biggest chores is keeping track of where books are. Now a new radio tag might help solve the problem. "Unlike bar codes, which need to be scanned manually and read individually, radio ID tags do not require line-of-site for reading. Multiple tags can be read simultaneously, through packaging or book covers. With radio ID tags, librarians can automate check-ins and returns. Patrons can speed through self-checkout without any assistance or ever even opening a book." Wired 05/21/02

READING IN DARK IS BAD: Your parents were right - reading in the dark is bad for your eyes. A researcher reports that "the way we use our eyes when young can affect the way the eyes develop." He salso says that rates of myopia are increasing. BBC 05/21/02

Monday May 20

READERS DESERT UK LIBRARIES: A new study reports that use of British libraries is shrinking. The report says that "since 1992 visits to libraries have fallen by 17%. In the same period spending on books has fallen by a third, and 9% fewer libraries are open for 30 or more hours a week - although the national library budget has remained stable, at 770 million a year." Why - readers complain of shabby building and limited selection." The Guardian (UK) 05/17/02

ART OF REDIRECTION: You go to the Amazon website, type in the name of the book you're looking for, and when your book comes up, it's accompanied by a suggestion to try another book instead. "Two weeks ago, Amazon's Web site added a feature that lets users suggest that shoppers buy a different book than the one being perused." The New York Times 05/20/02

ART YES, BUT SUITABLE? Mark Read is Australia's best-selling true crime author. His partner, illustrator Adam Cullen is an Archibald Prize winner. They've collaborated on a horrific little book called Hooky the Cripple, that has the Australian "art world, literary circles and parents' groups raising eyebrows," with suggestions it ought to be banned from libraries. "It is a curiously poetic little book, a fine balance between mawkish tragedy, revenge thriller and ironic courtroom drama." The Age (Melbourne) 05/20/02

RICH AND SPIRITUAL: A bookstore worker sees trends in buying converge. "Sept. 11 may have sparked a renaissance in learning about Islam and the Middle East, but the economic downturn has inspired an even greater rash of financial book buying at my place of employment. This war on terrorism, fought with a fever-pitch moral righteousness against 'evildoers' and the like, has much in common with modern business strategy as espoused by today's bestsellers, which often blend scorched-earth war rhetoric with financial advice." Salon 05/20/02

Friday May 17

WHO READS THE BOOK REVIEWS? "What is the role of print reviews and features in catalyzing book sales? A quick check of the sales rankings on Amazon.com following major reviews in national newspapers such as the New York Times, USA Today or the Wall St. Journal confirms that those publications can have a significant commercial impact. But publicists across the industry say it's next to impossible for a single review or feature to make a bestseller." Publishers Weekly 05/13/02

NEXT IT'LL BE METAL DETECTORS AND A BOARDING PASS: One of the more comfortable places to hang out in Tacoma Washington in you're homeless is the Tacoma Public Library, where it's warm and dry. This week the library's directors approved a "behavior rule that would restrict patrons from bringing bedrolls, big boxes or bulky bags into the library. Under the rule, a visitor's belongings must fit comfortably under his or her chair and measure no larger than 18 inches long by 16 inches wide by 10 inches high." We're not discriminating against homeless people, say's the library's director. Seattle Post-Intelligencer 05/16/02

Thursday May 16

SAVING THE GREAT POETS: Libraries have recordings of some of the great poets of the 20th Century. "Often these tapes were made in casual settings where the poets felt free to muse, explain and joke as well as read. But the recordings, many of them decades old, are in poor condition" and disintegrating. So poetry centers are trying to transfer the recordings to digital storage to save them. The New York Times 05/16/02

OXFORD AMERICAN MAY FOLD: The decade-old literary magazine Oxford American, which tags itself "the Southern Magazine of Good Writing," is in serious danger of closing up shop, after publisher and chief bill-payer John Grisham decided that it was time for the magazine to either break even or shut down. There is still time for the magazine to be saved, probably through new ownership, but Grisham isn't willing to wait forever. Nando Times (AP) 05/15/02

Wednesday May 15

TAKING REVIEWS ONLINE: American newspapers may be cutting their book sections, but online book reviews are flourishing. "Harriet Klausner has written over 3,000 online reviews and ranks as Amazon's No. 1 reviewer. A publicist at one of New York's prestigious houses who requested anonymity said Klausner's reviews matter to her more than some city newspapers. 'A single review of hers shows up on hundreds of sites. She's as important as some syndicated newspapers in terms of reaching readers'." Wired 05/14/02

IRONY IN CONTEXT: So some in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia want to ban To Kill a Mockingbird because it contains the "n" word. Stupid right? But maybe there's a little problem with cultural context going on here. "When you use an anachronistic text to teach a moral lesson, it can become a double agent working for the opposite side; its overearnestness and its lack of contemporary code become ripe for irony. In practice, a well-meaning text of yesteryear can become a form of hate lit - inarguable, because it is shrouded in irony." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/14/02

BROKEN SYSTEM: At a time when Canadian authors are big news, there are "myriad problems in the secretive and delusional world of Canadian book distribution and retailing. The problems are neither new or surprising. Revealing them to public scrutiny is an opportunity to rethink some of the ways books are distributed and sold in this country." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/15/02

Tuesday May 14

DUBLIN PRIZE: French writer Michel Houellebecq is the winner of the annual $90,000 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his second novel, Atomised, about "half brothers who have little in common apart from their mother." Nando Times (AP) 05/13/02

DOWNWARD SPIRAL? One book industry inside is pessimistic about the long-range future of the business. "With record numbers of new books published every year, a more liquid market for used books online, fewer books going out of print thanks to print-on-demand technology, and overall unit sales stagnant or even declining, the mathematical collision is disastrous - lower sales for all but a few titles. And a potential decline in young readers will make the situation worse when those kids grow up. It raises urgent questions about everything from book pricing to how we treat reading in our society and use technology to grow audiences." Washington Post 05/14/02

WE OPNIONATE, YOU DECIDE: Does fairness count anymore? Are we bored by it? "In the April 21 issue of the Sunday New York Times Book Review, nearly half the top ten nonfiction bestsellers belong to a genre that middle-of-the-road innocents might label 'one-sided,' 'unbalanced,' 'exclusionary' or worse, though the Times's blurbs artfully avoid the issue. Maybe we've entered an era in which publishers and readers no longer care about two hands working at complementary tasks - about evidence and counterevidence, arguments and counterarguments, decency toward subject matter." The Nation 05/20/02

MOBY GOES TO BOOKEXPO: For all the hoopla and jostling and depressing observations one could make, last week's BookExpo in New york was heaven for book lovers. "Did I mention someone dressed up as Benjamin Franklin was there, too? Also, a guy in a green suit covered in question marks. Also, a couple dressed up like miners, wearing overalls and helmets with lanterns on them." MobyLives 05/13/02

THE UNREADABLE BEST-SELLER: Jean M Auel has sold some "34 million books worldwide and she has been translated into 26 languages." Yet you likely have never heard of her - her books are rarely reviewed. Maybe there's a reason - The Shelters of Stone is not an easy book to review. "Actually, it is not an easy book to read at all for anybody of any literary sensitivity whatsoever. It is absurd from beginning to end and stupefyingly boring, too." So what's the appeal? London Evening Standard 05/13/02

Monday May 13

BOOK PARTY: The recent BookExpo in New York is considered by most attendees to have been a success. Given recent difficulties in the book industry, the mood down on the exhibit floor was "refreshingly upbeat." Publishers Weekly 05/13/02 

LOOKING AT THE TOP 100: The poll that ranked the top 100 books of all time and put Don Quixote atop the list surprised many. Not Shakespeare? Not Homer or Tolstoy? "Of the 100 titles, more than two thirds were written by European authors, almost half were written in the 20th century and only 11 were written by women." The Scotsman 05/13/02

Friday May 10

YOU MEAN THERE ARE OTHER WAYS TO SELL BOOKS? One of the U.K.'s leading writers has lashed out at British booksellers who, she claims, have sacrificed diversity and range of stock for massive displays featuring guaranteed best-sellers like the Harry Potter series. One of the bookshops singled out by A.S. Byatt has responded that while it certainly makes a point of marketing the big-name titles, it also stocks fully half of all books currently available in print. BBC 05/10/02

NOT THAT ANYONE STILL CARES, BUT... A settlement has been reached between Houghton Mifflin, publisher of the Gone With the Wind parody The Wind Done Gone, and the estate of original Wind author Margaret Mitchell, nearly a year after the last court challenge ended. The original gripe was ostensibly over copyright infringement and freedom of speech, but, like most things, it turned out to really be about money. Nando Times (AP) 05/09/02

IS CENSORSHIP ALL BAD? Yet another silly book flap over an attempt to ban To Kill A Mockingbird for its use of the word 'nigger' is sparking discussion at the offices of Canada's National Post. In a discussion with two editors, the paper's cultural writer puts forward the unpopular notion that "the so-called intelligentsia... are too quick to slap around ordinary people who have entirely authentic concerns about the effect of language and even ideas on their constituencies." Also, is censoring Harper Lee somehow more egregious an offense than censoring Agatha Christie? National Post (Canada) 05/10/02

Thursday May 9

BOOK SALES SOAR: The first quarter was a blockbuster one for the book trade. "The largest gain was in adult hardcover, where sales moved up nearly 61% over the first quarter of 2001, while children's hardcover sales had a 47.8% increase. Trade paperback sales were up almost 25% and children's paperback sales increased 31.2%. Mass market paperback sales were ahead 20.5%." Publishers Weekly 05/07/02

EVER HEARD OF... Is it just an illusion that service in book shops is getting worse? Hmnnn... At one London bookseller, "I ask if he knows of a book called The Colour Orange by Alice Walker. 'Let's put the title in and see what comes up,' he says. There is no exact match, but there is a book with the words orange and colour in the title and then a lot of symbols. 'Could that be it?' he says and pushes the screen round. It is about metallurgy. I tell him that I think it's a novel. 'Is it possible you've got the wrong title?' he asks. I concede that it is. There follows a stumped silence." The Guardian (UK) 05/07/02

INSPIRING SALES: While some general interest publishers have been cutting back, inspirational/religious books have surged recently. "The books range from the serious Christian, Jewish and Buddhist (and lately some Muslim) works through New Age buckle-down about self-help to stuff that would embarrass P. T. Barnum. For many readers apparently, these books bring a kind of religion to those who don't want a traditional one. Whatever, secular publishers are into it heavily." The New York Times 05/09/02

Wednesday May 8

TOP OF THE WINDMILLS: A poll of leading international authors names Don Quixote as the best work of fiction ever. "Miguel de Cervantes's 17th-century novel about a knight crazed by reading too many romances about chivalry, who goes on a mad quest accompanied by his levelheaded servant, was comfortably ahead of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past in the poll of 100 writers from 54 countries. It eclipsed the plays of Shakespeare and works by authors from Homer to Tolstoy." The New York Times (Reuters) 05/08/02

HARRY DELAYED? Harry Potter fans have been eagerly awaiting the September release of the next installment of the boy wizard's adventures. But JK Rowling has "still not delivered the manuscript for the book to her publishers and has refused to give any hints about when it will be ready. But unless it is completed within the next few weeks, her publishers, Bloomsbury, will fail to meet their target publication date of September this year." The Scotsman 05/08/02

READING CUTS: Several American newspapers have reduced their books coverage. And at least some of them haven't logged many complaints by readers. "I defy you to find any newspaper research that shows book sections at the top of the list of what people want to read." US News & World Reports 05/05/02

  • COLD TYPE: Canadian newspapers are making even deeper cuts in books sections than US publications. "Book pages seldom, if ever, make money. Even though newspapers pay shockingly low fees to reviewers, book pages are often a loss leader because the advertising from publishers and retailers cannot support the cost of the pages." Ryerson Review of Journalism Summer 02

Tuesday May 7

HOOKED ON AN E-READ: After lots of buzz a few years ago about how e-publishing was going to transform the book business, e-books still account for less than 1 percent of all books sold. Now e-publishers are starting an education initiative. "Enticing people to try reading on their favorite handheld device will undoubtedly convince many of them to start reading e-books on a regular basis." Wired 05/07/02

Monday May 6

YOU TOO, CAN START A BOOK CLUB: They all lamented the end of Oprah's stories book club (they'll miss the sales, natch). But since Oprah's news, all sorts of celebs have stepped up to start their own clubs. And it turns out that guess what - even the dumbest of them (oops, did we say that out loud Kelly Ripa?) sell a ton of books. Ah, the power of TV...(and you thought it was th love of reading). MobyLives 05/06/02

A SICK INDUSTRY: Last week's collapse of Canada's major distributor of books was no surprise. The company hadn't been paying publishers for about a year. "Two years ago, I made what seemed to me a startling discovery about Canadian book publishing that even when everyone knows something is terribly wrong, no one is prepared to speak publicly about it. A code of silence prevails. It is considered better to face a looming catastrophe stoically than to draw attention to it." Toronto Star 05/05/02

FIGHTING BOOK THEFT: Each year 100 million books worth 750 million are stolen off UK bookstore shelves (true crime books are most stolen, reports one bookseller). Now some possible high tech tagging help in cutting down theft. "Unlike the acoustic magnetic tags attached to CDs, DVDs and videos, which set off an alarm unless they are deactivated before the customer leaves the shop, the tags contain a silicon chip which can carry a large amount of information and an antenna able to transmit that information to a reading device." BBC 04/30/02

Sunday May 5

POETIC TREASURE: Chicago-based Poetry Magazine is ninety years old. It has introduced the work of "virtually every major American poet of the 20th century, including Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore." Each year the magazine gets 90,000-100,000 submissions and the staff says it reads every one. Chicago Sun-Times 05/05/02

FOREIGN-OWNED OR DEATH? Canadian law prohibits selling a Canadian publisher to a foreign buyer. But there are no obvious Canadian buyers for the large General Publishing Co. after the company filed for bankruptcy protection last week. So maybe the Canadian government will make an exception to the ownership rule rather than let the company fold? The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/04/02

  • Previously: CANADIAN CRISIS: "The Canadian book publishing industry was reeling last night after Jack Stoddart, one of the largest publishers in Canada and owner of the largest distributor of Canadian books, won bankruptcy court protection from his creditors yesterday. The move leaves many book publishers across Canada struggling to stay afloat, cut off -- for now -- from their main source of revenue, which is the money funneled to them through Mr. Stoddart from the stores that sell their books." National Post (Canada) 05/01/02

LIVING IN THE AFTERLIFE: Next to a hatchet-job of a biography, there's probably nothing so damaging to a deceased popular writer's memory and reputation as a pot-boiling sequel. The publishing industry cheerfully conspires with the process by which a good popular writer's memory is piously demeaned by inferior imitations churned out by penurious hacks. Which brings me to the intriguing case of Ian Fleming's James Bond, who is about to celebrate his 50th birthday. (Casino Royale was first published in 1953)." The Observer (UK) 05/05/02

MEMENTOS OR STORAGE PROBLEM? If you're at all a reading person, you have to deal with where to store all your books. After you've stored them for years (rarely taking many of them off the shelves), the thought might occur - why do I need all these? "What are they? Memento vitae, furniture, ornament..." So you start opening them with an eye to paring down, and inevitably ... The Guardian (UK) 05/04/02

Friday May 3

THE LIFE OF NOBODY: Everyone's writing a book these days. "This is the age of memoir. Never have personal narratives gushed so profusely from the American soil as in the closing decade of the twentieth century. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone is telling it." As a literary form, though, memoirs get no respect. "It is fashionable, a bid for superiority, to denigrate memoir and explain its causes in derogatory terms. The reasons have calcified. Memoir is Jerry Springer. Memoir is narcissistic. Memoir is easy. Memoir is made-up. Memoir is ubiquitous. Memoir is self-help disguised. The counter-argument also has hardened. Memoir is a genre - some practitioners are good, some not. Memoir is not new - vide Augustine. Fiction is exhausted, memoir is vital. Both sides have stated their cases over and over. The questions remain - why memoirs by nobodies? And why now?" Alternet 05/01/02

END OF RUN: Seattle's Poetry Northwest is the longest-running poetry-only publication in America. But "after 43 years of publication, the poetry quarterly from the University of Washington is shutting down with its Spring 2002 issue." The publication "was given a two-year reprieve by the university amid a financial crisis in 2000, but the magazine's supporters have been unable to locate another source of funding and it will have to cease publication." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 05/021/02

Thursday May 2

NAT'L MAG AWARDS HONOR THE BIG PLAYERS: "The National Magazine Awards, the Oscars of the industry, proved Wednesday that a media-wide gap between the haves and have-nots may well be widening in a melancholy period for the magazine industry, with stalwarts The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly each taking home three of the 19 first-place prizes." Chicago Tribune 05/02/02

THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW: The bankruptcy of General Publishing, Canada's largest publishing and distribution house, continues to have a terrifying effect on the country's book industry. The latest scenario may have General cutting its losses by selling to a foreign buyer, although a special exemption from a Canadian law prohibiting such sales would have to be obtained first. Toronto Star 05/02/02

SINGING PRAISES OF THE OED: "Why should a maturing book-lover know or care what the Oxford English Dictionary is? Well, let me give you an analogy: The OED is to the average dictionary what the Louvre is to a garage sale with a few antiques. All of us book-lovers, at some point, become vividly conscious of this lexicographic masterpiece, in the same way that as adults with maturing palates and troublesome colons we come to adore olive paste, oysters, and fiber supplements." Village Voice Literary Supplement 04/29/02

  • WORKING AWMERICAN: Likewise, Webster's isn't just another dictionary. "What Noah Webster proposed was simply to teach all Americans to spell and speak alike, yet differently in detail from the people of England. The result would be an 'American language, to become over the years as different from the future language of England, as the modern Dutch, Danish and Swedish are from the German, or from one another'." Okay, so it didn't quite work out that way, but it does explain some things... Times Literary Supplement 04/27/02

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF'S DESCENDANTS? This past week, representatives of the estate of Virginia Woolf blasted a San Francisco publisher for the release of a rough early work which had previously been available only for scholarly study. Strangely, however, the estate had previously given its permission for the new trade edition, and the publisher claims to be completely flummoxed by the shots being fired across her bow. Boston Globe 05/02/02

HOW TO ACT LIKE A ROCK STAR ON YOUR BOOK TOUR: His name is Neil Pollack, and he may or may not be fictional. He may or may not be Dave Eggers. (His mother swears he's not.) He may or may not be the most exciting thing to happen to Canadian literature since Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale. And he most definitely does not care what you or Margaret Atwood or the stuffy old publishing industry thinks about any of it. National Post (Canada) 05/01/02

Wednesday May 1

CANADIAN CRISIS: "The Canadian book publishing industry was reeling last night after Jack Stoddart, one of the largest publishers in Canada and owner of the largest distributor of Canadian books, won bankruptcy court protection from his creditors yesterday. The move leaves many book publishers across Canada struggling to stay afloat, cut off -- for now -- from their main source of revenue, which is the money funneled to them through Mr. Stoddart from the stores that sell their books." National Post (Canada) 05/01/02

TOME RAIDER: A man dubbed by police the "Tome Raider" who stole 412 extremely rare antique books and pamphlets worth an estimated 1.1 million from libraries and then sold them at auctions is today facing a lengthy jail term. His haul was "one of the biggest of its kind in British legal history. Some of the books have been returned to the libraries but hundreds of them have never been traced." The Guardian (UK) 04/30/02

ART BOOK ABDICATION: Australia's premiere art book publisher was sold last year. Now some authors have been told by the new owners that the company is not obligated to pay royalties negotiated under the previous owners. Other writers have had their projects canceled. Sydney Morning Herald 05/01/02

  • TOUGH ON ART BOOKS: Australia has a dearth of art book publishers. It's a tough business. "All art publishers face the problem of how to make a profit on lavish, labour-intensive books which, at retail prices of $50 to $100, sell only a few thousand copies at most. Authors generally pay copyright and reproduction fees for artworks; at up to $250 an image, this can consume advances and royalties." Because of the costs, vanity publishing is common and credibility is low. Sydney Morning Herald 05/01/02

PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG: With two major U.S. publishers folding their e-book imprints, and horror writer Stephen King abandoning an online writing venture a few chapters in, this might not seem like the best time for anyone to launch a massive new e-books project. Nonetheless, "Ernest Hemingway is to become one of the first major authors to have his whole literary catalogue put on the internet. The 23 novels will be available for people to read on their computers for less than the price of most paperbacks." BBC 05/01/02

CORRECTING THE NORTH AMERICAN NOVEL: So what's the big deal about Johnathan Franzen, anyway? The author who snubbed Oprah has some very interesting ideas about North American literature, and he is determined to change what he sees as a lazy literary culture which ignores the context of the larger world in favor of introspection and glorified navel-gazing. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 05/01/02

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