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JUNE 2001

Friday June 29

WIN WITHOUT WINNING: So the US court says publishers owe freelance writers extra money for electronic publishing rights. Publishers just include electronic rights with paper rights in a take it or leave it deal. So freelancers are unlikely to come out ahead. Wired 06/28/01

TOO POPULAR? "Could it be that accessibility is a dirty word for many literary pundits? Certainly the great postwar movements in literature — the nouveau roman in France, the formlessness of much American beat literature, the disjointed anti-narratives of John Barth, Donald Barthelme and Thomas Pynchon — helped marginalise the conventional novel, depositing it in that critical file marked Antiquated and Reactionary." The Times (UK) 06/28/01

Thursday June 28

REINVIGORATING AN INSTITUTION: Book-of-the-Month Club used to be a giant of the publishing business. But its influence (and number of customers) has declined precipitously with the success of online booksellers and superstores. Now BOTM is returning to its roots, appointing new judges in the hopes of regaining its influence. The New York Times 06/28/01 (one-time registration required for access)

ANYTHING NOT TO PAY: Publishers are busy removing freelance material in their archives rather than pay free-lancers for electronic rights after Monday's Supreme Court ruling in the free-lancers' favor. The Writers Union says "These threats are a slap in the face of the United States Supreme Court and they are particularly distressing because we, from the very beginning, really put out the olive branch to the industry saying, 'We'd like to work these solutions out with you'." Inside.com 06/27/01

BASIC REVIEW: What is happening to the art of book reviewing? "There is nothing the book industry - and, I suspect, many authors - would like more than to get rid of reviews entirely. We are not effective advertising. Our focus on content rather than image makes us hopelessly out of step with the times. In the twenty-first century we may well become an endangered species - a few of us kept alive in captivity to serve as quote whores, but otherwise extinct in our native habitat of books." Good Reports 06/28/01

TRYING TO GET TWAIN RIGHT: Berkely Press is issuing "the only authoritative text" of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Trouble is, Berkley made the same claim for an earlier, different version of the novel. And Random House publishes "the only comprehensive edition." Why the confusion? Blame it on 19th-century typesetters. "They don't make a very great many mistakes," Twain complained, "but those that do occur are of a nature to make a man curse his teeth loose." Nando Times 06/28/01

PRIM AND PROPER WORD: If you're writing recipes or a technical manual for in-line skates, Microsoft's Word software may be just the thing for you. But if you're writing a bodice ripper, or good old fashioned erotica, the word processor's built-in thesaurus, "whose 222,000 words are purged of any sexual content," will probably let you down. American Prospect 07/02/01

Wednesday June 27

MARK TWAIN'S LATEST STORY: "The Atlantic Monthly's publication this summer of Mark Twain's "A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage"—a story Twain submitted to The Atlantic in 1876 that was essentially forgotten and remained unpublished until now—has drawn renewed attention to the author and his connection with the magazine. The relationship began in December, 1869..." Atlantic Unbound 06/25/01

Tuesday June 26

SUPREMES - WRITERS RETAIN E-RIGHTS: The US Supreme Court strikes a blow for freelancers, ordering publishers to treat electronic rights for published material as separate. Now publishers, including The New York Times, "face the prospect of paying substantial damages to the six freelancers who brought the lawsuit in 1993 and perhaps to thousands of others who have joined in three class-action lawsuits against providers of electronic databases, which the court also found liable for copyright infringement." The New York Times 06/26/01 (one-time registration required for access)

  • PUBLISHERS REACT: Publishers say they will begin removing freelancers' work from electronic databases as soon as possible. A spokesperson for the New York Times said "about 115,000 articles by 27,000 writers would be affected. All appeared in the paper from about 1980 to about 1995." The New York Times 06/26/01 (one-time registration required for access)

STRUGGLING WITH MEIN KAMPF: Since the end of World War II, Germany has stuck to a policy of banning all speech that could be construed as pro-Nazi. The party itself is illegal in Germany, as is the publication or sale of the writings of the Third Reich. Now, debate has reopened on whether or not to allow the distribution of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler's blueprint for world domination. New Statesman (UK) 06/25/01

Monday June 25

FREELANCERS' BIG WIN: The US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of freelance writers and photographers, voting "7-2 that compilation in an electronic database is different from other kinds of archival or library storage of material that once appeared in print. That means that copyright laws require big media companies such as The New York Times to get free-lancers' permission before posting their work online." SFGate 06/25/01

Sunday June 24

LET THE SCHMOOZING COMMENCE: As BookExpo, Canada's largest publishing convention, gets underway in Toronto, there are signs that things may be looking up for the industry. For the first time in several years, Chapters, the nation's dominant bookstore megachain, is sending a sizable contingent to the convention, and overall, the atmosphere is noticably more cooperative than it has been in quite some time. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 06/23/01

A LOT OF BLANK PAGES: When Douglas Adams, author of the best-selling "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" books, died last month, he left behind less of a legacy than his publisher had hoped for. Adams, who was famous for crippling bouts of Writer's Block, had produced only eight pages of writing in the last ten years while working on a novel for which he received a whopping $10 million advance. National Post (Canada) 06/23/01

RECAPTURING RESPECTABILITY? Clive James was once described in The New Yorker as being "a great bunch of guys" who seemed unable to settle on which personality should be dominant. James, who has been writer, TV personality, and Japanese game show host, is releasing two volumes of essays this year, and he admits that this renewed attempt at "seriousness" is prompted in part by the fear that the more frivolous aspects of his career would define his place in history. The Observer (UK) 06/24/01

Friday June 22

A POET LAUREATE FOR THE MASSES: The U.S. has a new poet laureate, and if you were hoping for a seriously high-minded, no-nonsense craftsman, you're going to be disappointed. Billy Collins, who teaches at Lehman College in upstate New York, believes that humor "is a door into the serious," and his irreverent style has made him a favorite of magazines like The New Yorker and radio programs like A Prairie Home Companion. Dallas Morning News 06/22/01

Thursday June 21

THE PERVERSION OF COPYRIGHT: "Try to talk to any normal American about how this country’s copyright law has gone off the rails, and you’ll likely witness a new speed record for how quickly his eyes glaze over. That’s why, when I want to communicate the horror of modern copyright law, I use the example of horror writer Stephen King, who (at least in theory) is a potential victim of the current state of the law." Reason 06/18/01

COPYWRECK: Proposed changes to Australian copyright law will allow European and American publishers free access to Australia. "The effect will be that new Australian writers will find no financially viable local publishers able to pick up their work and nurse and carry their first few relatively unprofitable books during the time that it takes for a writer to mature and find a substantial readership." Sydney Morning Herald 06/21/01

Wednesday June 20

STANDING BEHIND YOUR WRITER: Earlier this year, when a judge ruled against Alice Randall's right to publish her parody of Gone with the Wind, many thought the project would die. But publisher Houghton Miflin stood against the odds. ''You have to stick by your authors. 'Many publishers drop a book like a stone after one negative review, but we were sticking by our author. We felt her book had integrity, and we were not going to abandon it.'' Boston Globe 06/20/01

E-BOOKS ARE COMING. SLOWLY, BUT THEY'RE COMING: "To expect a practical business plan for unmediated electronic publishing to arise full blown from the existing industry would be to disregard the waywardness of human endeavor, the complexity of the emerging digital future... the wish of today’s publishers to enter the digital future in approximately their present form. But to assume... that a reasonable business plan may not sooner or later emerge would be to ignore the persistence and ingenuity with which human beings have invented their world so far." New York Review of Books 07/05/01

A FRENCH BOOK INSTITUTION: Bernard Pivot is a literary institution in France, where, for 28 years, he's hosted a TV program on books. Times have changed since the program started, though, and as Pivot retires this summer, many fear the French government television network will not replace Pivot and continue the show. The New York Times 06/18/01 (one-time registration required for access)

MUSIC AS MUSE: Some writers need silence to concentrate; others need music. "Like fiction, music is an art that exists in time. Like fiction, music is always promising an imminent conclusion and then introducing complications. Like fiction, music can be plain to the point of plainsong or as intricate as counterpoint, and both extremes can be satisfying." The New York Times 06/18/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Tuesday June 19

UNIVERSITY E-PRESS: While e-publishing bedevils most commercial publishers, university presses are forging ahead with e-projects. The advantages are many for academic books, and since university presses tend to be collegial with one another rather than competitive... Publishers Weekly 06/18/01

GEISHA SUES: "Memoirs of a Geisha, an account of a young girl sold into the geisha world who overcomes the animosity of a rival geisha and becomes one of Kyoto's most luminous geishas, has sold four million copies." Now the retired geisha who provided Arthur Golden with much of his background for the book is suing Golden. "She said that by using her name, despite what she claims was an agreement to keep her identity secret, Mr. Golden disparaged her reputation in the geisha community, which has for centuries maintained a tradition of discretion. She is now suing him for a portion of the book's profits. The New York Times 06/19/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE COMIC WEB: Once a national pastime (half of the U.S. population regularly read comic books in 1945), comics in the '90s flirted with extinction: Only one in a thousand Americans were buying. But comics may prove to be indestructible, thanks in part to a secret weapon - the Web." Wired 06/18/01

Monday June 18

TRACKING BOOKS: Accurate statistics on book sales have always been difficult to come by. Now Bookscan, a unit of Soundscan, the company that brought order to recording sales stats, hopes to tame the book industry; it has signed up major chains and booksellers. The New York Times 06/18/01 (one-time registration required for access)

A FAKED HISTORY: Esteemed historian Joseph Ellis taught a class on Vietnam and America at Mt. Holyoke College, but the "personal recollections" he included in the course were fabricated. Ellis, reports the Boston Globe, had never served in Vietnam. Boston Globe 06/18/01

POWER OF THE PRIZE: In general, literary prizes help sales of a book, helping it stand out from the other 14,000 books published in a given year. "The less information consumers have about something, the more they're forced to rely on such third-party imprimaturs. This helps explain a curious fact about American literary prizes: they generally help relative unknowns much more than stars." The New Yorker 06/18/01

DIGGING THE PAST: Historical fiction is hot. "You can pick any serious American writing from the past decade, any novel or short-story collection that either crossed over to the best-seller lists or won a major award, and the odds are good it's historical fiction. This is surprising because American fiction hasn't been like this for decades – if at all." Dallas Morning News 06/17/01

OH TO BE A CANADIAN POET: Book critic Dennis Loy Johnson is impressed with a Canadian poetry award - the Griffin - that gives poets $40,000. "If giving already wealthy poets big cash prizes and throwing them fancy balls is putting poetry back in the mainstream, I say point me toward the door for Canada, baby." MobyLives 06/18/01

Sunday June 17

BESTSELLING WHAT? Few Americans read. Those that do...well, a look at the bestseller lists is not encouraging. "This is not progress. This is not reading. These are not books. They're feel-happy lists clotting pages." Philadelphia Inquirer 06/17/01

Friday June 15

APPEALING TO A HIGHER READER: Conventional wisdom is that intellectual books don't sell well. Yet Louis Menand's tome The Metaphysical Club documenting the lives and influence of William James, John Dewey, Charles Sanders Peirce and Oliver Wendell Holmes, has quickly hit the best-seller lists, selling out its first U.S. printing of 25,000, and is well into its second run. The Globe & Mail (AP) (Canada) 06/15/01

OUR FLEXIBLE, COMPENDIOUS, TORTURED, LANGUAGE: That ultimate arbiter of our lexicon, the Oxford English Dictionary (just plain OED to the in-crowd) has 1,250 new or revised entries. They're at the OED website now, but won't be in the published edition for years. Among the additions: d'oh, bad hair day, full monty, retail therapy. Nando Times (AP) 06/14/01

Thursday June 14

INTELLECTUAL FAILURE: The Australian Review of Books was a noble experiment to appeal to Australian intellectuals. But that it failed is "all too indicative of what is wrong with the intellectual-literary-artistic scene in Australia. It is dominated by politics and partisan hatreds, as well as irrational obsessions with figures like Rupert Murdoch. Sydney Morning Herald 06/14/01

THE CRITICS REVIEWED: Three critics with reputations for being tough reviewers have their own books coming out - and one can see other critics polishing up their critical responses. The new authors will just have to suck it up if the reviews are harsh. "To be reviewed harshly is painful. If you are a critic you are expected to shut up if it happens to you." The New York Times 06/14/01 (one-time registration required for access)

BLOOMSDAY IS COMING: Anyone who has ever tried to tackle James Joyce's Ulysses alone knows what it is for one's brain to actually, physically hurt. Possibly the most complex work of twentieth century fiction, the tome has nonetheless attracted a devoted following. This Saturday (June 16) is "Bloomsday," the day on which Ulysses takes place, and the Joyce fans will all be coming out of the woodwork. Chicago Tribune 06/14/01

Wednesday June 13

READING BERLIN: Berlin's first International Festival of Literature opens with 100 writers from around the world. "The program ambitiously sets out to present the literatures of the world as comprehensively as possible, with the underlying hope that quantity will automatically translate into quality at some point." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06/13/01

Tuesday June 12

NAMING RIGHTS: A book without a title is...well, something pretty hard to sell. But choosing that right title - and hoping it hasn't been used by someone else in the meantime - is a tricky business. Poets & Writers 06/01

PRESENTATION COUNTS: Some people were not surprised that Kate Grenville's The Idea of Perfection won the Orange Prize. They were in the audience when "the shortlisted authors read extracts from their work to a paying audience. Grenville's performance was the one that really stuck in the mind... despite the competence and skill of the other pieces, her reading was invested with a different level of energy and enthusiasm." The Guardian (UK) 06/09/01

SELF-PORTRAITS IN PROSE: "To talk about oneself used to be considered unseemly: the classic autobiographies and the classic novels that pretend to be somebody's memoir all begin by offering extenuating reasons for doing something so egotistical. Even now, when self-centeredness hardly requires an apology, a book of self-examination, a novel cast as a personal recollection, continues to invite a self-justifying explanation." The New Yorker 06/18/01

THE MARRIAGE OF NAPSTER AND E-BOOKS: Audio books are going high-tech. In place of that box full of cassettes, now there's a direct download to your MP3 player. "The thing has no moving parts. You can throw it against a wall and it still works. It's far superior to buying or renting or ordering it by mail, and maybe having to pack it up and send it back. And it's cheaper, too." Atlanta Journal-Constitution 06/12/01

ELECTRONIC PAPER NOW AVAILABLE IN COLOR: Electronic paper "never needs a backlight. In addition, it only needs power when the image changes. Once an image has been produced it will remain visible even with the power switched off." According to the manufacturer, "Laptops, palmtops and cellphones with rigid electronic paper screens will be on the market within the next two years." The New Scientist 06/06/01

Monday June 11

FEED STARVES WITH SUCK: Two eminent web publications - Feed and Suck - shut down operations Friday as the internet shakeout of content sites continues. Suck was known for its irreverence, Feed - often linked to here on ArtsJournal - for its thoughtful consideration of ideas. Inside.com 06/08/01

BUYING IN TO THE NEW YORKER: So what does it take to get your writing in The New Yorker magazine? How about a little cash up front? "According to the May 8 edition of the industry e–newsletter PW Daily, to follow in the footsteps of Nabokov, Cheever, Updike and Salinger all you have to do is 'ante up a premium ad fee. That's what it will take to buy an advertorial excerpt in the pages normally reserved for the superliterati'." Mobylives 06/11/01

Sunday June 10

SERIAL WRITING: Fifteen prominent Irish writers collaborate on a novel, each contributing a chapter to the project. It's not a great book, but "the committee approach adopted in Yeats Is Dead! capitalises on something which many of us have secretly known for some time: most contemporary Irish novelists are best appreciated in small doses." The Sunday Times (UK) 06/10/01

AN ORIGINAL AS RAW MATERIAL: There is a long tradition of artists appropriating characters or ideas out of other artists' work and enlarging, expanding or retelling the work from a different perspective. So how is novelist Alice Randall's retake of Gone with the Wind any different? The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/09/01

Thursday June 7

ANOTHER CHAPTER OF ULYSSES HITS THE BLOCK: James Joyce's manuscript draft of the "Circe" chapter of Ulysses sold for $1.5 million six months ago. Now, a draft of the "Eumaeus" chapter is available, and is expected to go even higher. "The 44 hand written pages, covered in notes, revisions and amendments in three coloured inks, should fuel the [Joyce] industry for decades to come." The Guardian (UK) 06/05/01

THIS YEAR'S HOTTEST PUBLISHING PHENOM? Jabez - it's a kind of "anti-self help book. "Since November, The Prayer of Jabez has sold 4.5 million copies, zooming to the top of myriad best-seller lists." What's the attraction? "It may be that the Jabez craze is driven not so much by our insatiable desire to be richer, thinner, more significant - but by our exhaustion in the effort." The New Republic 06/06/01

POETRY'S PIECE OF THE PIE: "A pair of Canada's richest literary prizes will be handed out tonight for the first time to one of the country's most overlooked artistic groups -- poets. The inaugural edition of the annual Griffin Poetry Prize -- which includes two separate awards of $40,000 each -- will be announced at a gala ceremony in Toronto." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 06/07/01

Wednesday June 6

ORANGE PRIZE WINNER: Australian novelist Kate Grenville wins the Orange Prize, the UK's richest fiction award, worth £30,000, for The Idea of Perfection. Margaret Atwood, who had previously won the Booker Prize had been the favourite. BBC 06/06/01

READY TO PILE ON? As a critic, James Wolcott is brutal in his assessment of others - especially other critics. Now he's about to release a book. A novel. About a cat. Revenge, anyone? New York Magazine 06/04/01

Tuesday June 5

E-BOOKS FORGOTTEN? At this year's BookExpo, traffic was brisk in the print-book areas. But "it was a different scene in the area referred to by many conference goers as the Internet Ghetto. Business on publishing's new frontier was quiet and the number of exhibitors was way down, from 120 in 2000 to 80 this year. Last year, all anybody talked about was e-publishing. This year, the subject was as rare as an out-of-print book." Wired 06/04/01

WHAT DO WOMEN WANT? FOR ONE THING, SCARY NOVELS: Crime fiction "is more realistic, more violent and more anarchic than ever before." But why is so much of it read - and written - by women? "Girls are always being told not to go down dark alleys. This fear stays with us for the rest of our lives. Writing or reading about it is a way of taking the lid off it, of exploring it, rather than just sliding around it." The Guardian (UK) 06/04/01

IS THE LORD OF THE RINGS REAL LITERATURE? It's been voted the greatest book of the 20th century, and a jillion-dollar movie version is on the way. The continuing debate about its status was summed up 45 years ago by W. H. Auden: "Nobody seems to have a moderate opinion: either, like myself, people find it a masterpiece of its genre or they cannot abide it, and among the hostile there are some for whose literary judgment I have great respect ... I can only suppose that some people object to Heroic Quests and Imaginary Worlds on principle; such, they feel, cannot be anything but light 'escapist' reading." Salon 06/04/01

Monday June 4

GENDER WAR: The Orange Prize for Literature goes to "the best English-language book authored by a woman and published in Britain." But this year, administrators of the prize decided that a parallel all-male jury would be created to come up with its own list of finalists, but that only the decisions the all-female jury would count. "It's at this point that most people intelligent enough to read and write, or at least to blink their eyes, might begin to suspect that establishing two competing juries, one male and one female, for the same award was a surefire headline-grabbing publicity stunt designed to morph into a headline-grabbing gender war." Ottawa Citizen 06/04/01

HOW TO RUIN THE AUSTRALIAN BOOK INDUSTRY: Australia proposes to change its copyright laws and admit books published in other countries without tariff. "But if Australia becomes an open market, the Australian publisher will have to compete with American and British editions of the same book. Safe inside their own copyright territory, the Americans and British get Australia as a bonus. They don't even have to pay the author for this new market, because of the firmly entrenched practice of paying export royalties." Sydney Morning Herald 06/04/01

BOOK SALES DOWN: "Despite a healthy economy and the popularity of J.K. Rowling's novels about a kid wizard, sales of general interest books dropped 3.3% in the USA last year, according to an industry study." USAToday 06/04/01

  • HYPING A FLAT MARKET: Attendees at the annual BookExpo in Chicago say the book industry has been flat for two or three years. "The Internet gets part of the blame. People turn to the Web for information they might once have found in a book. What they don't seem to be doing yet in big numbers is downloading e-books to personal computers, PalmPilots or e-book reading machines." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 06/04/01

Friday June 1

DOING AN END-RUN ON AMAZON: As bookselling continues to become a business of megastores and online behemoths, Oregon's famous independent bookseller, Powell's, has been a beacon for those retailers struggling against the big chains. Now, Powell's online counterpart has struck a major deal with several national magazines which will give the store much-needed exclusive exposure on the mags' heavily-travelled web sites. National Post (Canada) 06/01/01

BOOK E-WARDS: Surprising some, administrators of the National Book Awards say e-books will now be considered prizes. "The new rules will mean that any book published exclusively as an e-book can be considered by judges in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature on its 'literary merit' just like any other book." Inside.com 06/01/01

JANE AUSTEN, WHERE ART THOU? Are writers and publishers of fiction failing their readers and disguising political harangues as narratives? One critic thinks so: "Every modern novel I read is about one or more of the following three things: a weak and passive woman victimized in the most ghastly and degrading way; a person of colour or a homosexual or someone with a visible disability ruined by a fat, conscienceless, moronic white person; or endemic, and/or unsolvable poverty caused by heedless First World greed." National Post (Canada) 06/01/01

ENVISIONING THE E-LIBRARY: Representatives from countless U.S. public libraries met in Chicago this week to discuss everything from funding to PR. But the hottest topic was technology, and the expected rise of the e-book. "Few conclusions were reached, but that wasn't the point. Tuesday's meeting was much more than an example of how libraries, particularly public libraries, are willing to go to the mat to bring the newest of digital technologies to the widest of audiences." Chicago Tribune 06/01/01

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