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Friday August 31

TO BUY A MOCKINGBIRD? "'To Kill a Mockingbird,' the book chosen by the Chicago Public Library for all Chicagoans to read in September and early October, is moving up the best-seller lists at two major Internet bookstores. Amazon.com reported that the mass market paperback edition of 'Mockingbird' jumped Wednesday to 67th on its best-seller list from a ranking the day before of 324th, out of more than 2 million titles carried by the company. Meanwhile, at Barnes&Noble.com, that same edition of 'Mockingbird' held 63rd place out of more than a million titles in the store's inventory." Chicago Tribune 08/31/01

Thursday August 30

ANY BOOK FOR FREE: Napster-type programs now make downloading books easy and free. "It took a National Post reporter 30 minutes to navigate Gnutella, find Stephen King's 1984 work Thinner on the network and download the novel. Printing the book required another 15 minutes. In addition to best-sellers written by such authors as King and Rowling, the most widely pirated books online are science fiction novels and computer manuals." National Post 08/30/01

REMEMBERING DAME EDNA: She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and one of the few who made a lot of money from it. Admirers, editors, and lovers lined up for her. She was a stunning, charismatic figure once regarded as a giant of American letters. Today she's nearly forgotten, a footnote. A couple of new biographies attempt to revive her reputation. The New York Times 08/30/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Wednesday August 29

BAD HISTORY: Five years ago a prize was set up in Australia for outstanding history-writing for kids. Trouble is, for the second time in five years the jury has declined to name even a shortlist of finalists for the prize, saying no books met the standard of excellence and that "many of the works were mired in a monocultural vision of Australia." So why is this so hard? Sydney Morning Herald 08/29/01

E-BOOK HACKER INDICTED: "A Russian computer programmer and his employer were indicted Tuesday on charges of violating digital copyright protections. Dmitry Sklyarov and ElComSoft Co. Ltd. were charged for writing a program that lets users of Adobe Systems' eBook Reader get around copyright protections imposed by electronic-book publishers. The indictment was the first under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which forbids technology that circumvents copyright protections." Salon 08/29/01

Tuesday August 28

ONE BOOK AT A TIME: Officials of the city of Chicago are trying to the the whole city to read the same book at the same time. And the book? Harper Lee's 1961 classic To Kill a Mockingbird. "Libraries throughout the city have braced for an onslaught by putting more than 4,000 copies of the book on their shelves, including Spanish and Polish translations. Bookstores reported sharp increases in sales even before the seven-week project was officially begun on Saturday." The New York Times 08/28/01 (one-time registration required for access)

READING THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MARKET: For decades, large publishing houses in the US paid scant attention to the interests of African-American readers. Then in 1992, everything just changed. That year, Terry MacMillan published Waiting to Exhale, and for a time, she, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker were simultaneously top-selling authors." Since then "seven publishing imprints dedicated to books by black authors have been created or revived by major publishing houses." Christian Science Monitor 08/28/01

THE NEXT BIG THING GUY: Jonathan Franzen is being set up by the publishing establishment as literature's Next Big Thing. In the run-up to his next book, the New York Times Magazine is publishing an excerpt this weekend, he's got an essay in the next New Yorker, and the film rights were just auctioned off for a ton of money. "So would it make a difference if someone told you that Franzen isn't just another self-conscious young author with a hip, po-mo sensibility; that he is an assured, seriously funny writer with a generosity and breadth of vision unusual for his generation?" The Globe & Mail (Canada0 08/28/01

Monday August 27

DEFINING THE READER: Is being a reader cool? Nah - "It's like being called a eunuch or an old maid; one always hears that faint sneer of disdain and condescension mixed with pity. To be bookish is to be mousy, repressed, a shy wallflower, incapable of getting along with people, dreamy and poetic, helpless in the real world." Washington Post 08/26/01

Friday August 24

WHAT'S WITH THE CHICK LIT? Booker Prize favorite author Beryl Bainbridge blasts the current "chick lit" genre of the Bridget Jones variety. "It's a pity that so many young women are writing like that. I wonder if they are just writing like this because they think they are going to get published." The Age (Melbourne) 08/24/01

Thursday August 23

DOWNLOADABLE READING: E-pirates are ripping off books online. "More than 7,000 copyrighted books are available for free on the Internet, including works by J.K. Rowling, John Grisham and Stephen King." CBC 08/22/01

WHO RULES PUBLISHING: It's simplistic yes, but "there are a handful of people whose influence affects your reading choices in ways you never would've guessed. Each of them, to some degree, represents his or her peers. But among the blockbuster authors who help support entire publishing houses, powerful literary agents who fight tooth and nail for their clients' deals, Hollywood moguls who often bring us back to the books from which they made their hits and gatekeepers you've probably never heard of," there is a small group of such powerful publishing figures. Book Magazine 08/01

Wednesday August 22

NY PUBLIC LIBRARY GETS KEROUAC: The New York Public Library has acquired Jack Kerouac's literary and personal archive. "The archive, the largest Kerouac holding in any institution, contains manuscripts, notebooks, letters, journals and personal items saved from the time he was 11 until his death at 47 in 1969." The New York Times 08/22/01 (one-time registration required for access)

PENGUIN THINKS E-BOOKS WILL BE COOL: Even Stephen King hasn't succeeded with e-publishing his novels, but book publisher Penguin is giving it a try anyway. Some 200 titles, including Jane Austen's Emma, will be available at the Penguin site. Often lost in the debates over the feasibility of e-books is that old-timer (in Internet terms) Project Gutenberg, which offers free downloads of thousands of public domain works, including Jane Austen's Emma. The Guardian (UK) 08/21/01

Tuesday August 21

HIT THE ROAD JACK: "Two decades ago, the author book tour was almost a novelty. Today it can be the deciding factor in a book’s success. Touring has always been as much about selling the author as the book. Turn the author into a traveling salesman, and those personal appearances generate real sales—important when a few thousand books can make a best seller—not to mention media attention on local radio and television and reviews in the local press." Newsweek 08/27/01

SLIPPERY SLOPE? The California State University system has struck a deal with an e-publisher to offer multiple copies of electronic books at one time. "Previously, a single copy of an e-book bought for an electronic-library could only be borrowed by one reader at a time - just like a print book. But an the arrangement with NetLibrary, half of the 1,500 e-books Cal State has purchased – at no additional cost - will have unrestricted use for multiple borrowers." Wired 08/21/01

Monday August 20

INDEPENDENT'S DAY: While Canadian book superstore Chapters has been mired in financial difficulties, and independent bookstores have been closing at a frightening pace, one Toronto independent is thriving. "Next month Book City celebrates 25 years in business with five branches around Toronto employing 71 staff, that move approximately 800,000 books and magazines annually." Toronto Star 08/18/01

POLITICS OF LITERATURE (AND CRITICISM): Why do we get the literature we get today? "A lot of today's 'literary' writing is repetitious, inexact, dull and clichéd. It is also highly formulaic, as witness the success of overblown nurse novels like Cold Mountain and The English Patient. But the most important point . . . has to do with the failure of the critical establishment. How can one explain reviewers gushing over trash it's hard to believe they've even read? Why do literary awards so often go to pretentious pulp?" Good Reports 08/18/01

Sunday August 19

ALL ABOUT ME: For years the British publishing market has been dominated by the memoir. "But there's a growing feeling that the memoir's hold on the literary market place has had a damaging effect on adjacent genres. Pieces of prose that in the 1980s would have been sent out into the world as novels have more recently been packaged as the Story of Me." The Observer (UK) 08/19/01

QUEEN OF LETTERS: Felicia Ackerman, a professor of philosophy at Brown University, is a NYTimes letters junkie. "Since 1991, the Times has published seventy-four of her epistles, including six so far this year. And were it not for the Times's notorious stringency, readers would see far more of Ackerman: She estimates that for every letter that runs, she's written three or four others." Lingua Franca 09/01

Friday August 17

PRETENSIONS TO QUALITY? Are American literary writers too full of themselves? Do they fail to make sense? Are American readers "gullible morons" who don't know good from bad? The debate is joined. The Guardian (UK) 08/16/01

BOOKING OUT: A Saskatchewan library is looking to give away half of its collection - about 100,000 books - and in the meantime is shipping the books to a warehouse thousands of miles away. "The Chief Librarian says circulation has dropped from 150,000 books per year to just 5,000." CBC 08/16/01

REAL KIDS' PLAY: The Children's Book Council of Australia is announcing this year's children's literature awards. "Loss, betrayal, death, racism, violence and fear are common issues in this year's list of winners." The Age (Melbourne) 08/17/01

Thursday August 16

BOOKER LONGLIST: For the first time ever, the longlist of finalists for the Booker Prize, the UK's most prestigious literary award, has been made public. Booker officials "believe revealing the longlist will put an end to speculation over how it is compiled." The Guardian (UK) 08/15/01

  • BOOKER NOMINEES: Here's a complete list of the 24 nominees for this year's Booker Prize. Toronto Star 08/15/01
  • HANDICAPPING THE B'r: Beryl Bainbridge is the bookmakers' favourite for the Booker. BBC 08/16/01

...AND NE'ER (WELL, SELDOM) THE TWAIN SHALL MEET: Why don't literary novels appeal to more readers, the way genre novels do? They aren't intended to, because "people who write serious fiction seek the high opinion of other literary novelists, of creative writing teachers and of reviewers and critics. They want very badly to be 'literary,' and for many of them this means avoiding techniques associated with commercial and genre fiction." Salon 08/16/01

  • Previously: WHAT'S WRONG WITH TODAY'S FICTION? BR Myers writes in the current Atlantic Monthly that stars of the contemporary writing establishment have lost their way [the piece is not online]. Critic Jonathan Yardley heartily agrees: "Myers looks back, as I too most certainly do, 'to a time when authors had more to say than 'I'm a writer!'; when the novel wasn't just a 300-page caption for the photograph on the inside jacket.' He notes with dismay the disdain in which such fiction is now held in proper literary circles, where the pretentious display of self-consciously 'writerly' prose is valued while plot, narrative and character are scorned." Washington Post 07/02/01

ANGELA'S COATTAILS: Jacket blurbs - those sound-bite-sized endorsements writers give one another for publicity - actually can boost sales of a book. That's particularly true if the blurber is well-known, or has recently had a very successful book. One of the best and most prolific is Frank McCourt, who blurbs at the rate of half a dozen a year. Slate 08/13/01

Wednesday August 15

LIKE THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT: The real China is enormous, complex, and elusive; writers tackle it at their peril. "Chinese authors who went into exile dominate perceptions of Chinese literature in western markets, but are largely ignored in China itself. Writers in China accuse the exiles of pandering to western fantasies." The Economist 08/09/01

"REALITY TV" IS RUINING NOVELS, TOO: One of Britain's leading novelists complains that "The vogue for confessional novels, and the pressure on writers to sell their work with some tantalising revelation from their personal lives, is killing serious fiction. The trend toward a culture of 'de-fictionalisation', driven partly by the mania for reality TV, [is] cheapening the art of the novel." The Guardian (UK) 08/13/01

Tuesday August 14

SELF-PUBLISHING INCREASE: Prices of on-demand self-published books are going up - as much as 30 percent. Authors aren't so concerned about changes in their royalties as they are that higher prices will mean fewer buyers. Wired 08/14/01

Monday August 13

THIS BOOK WILL SELF DESTRUCT IN... E-books are still a tough sell. But one publisher has an idea to sell electronic books and save it from being copied. RosettaBooks will sell a timed copy of an Agatha Christie book - $1 buys you twn hours of reading until the book is automatically erased. Planet eBook 08/10/01

Friday August 10

READING NATION: Australia's book publishers sold 126 million books worth $1.2 billion last year. That total was a 13 percent increase over 1997/98. The Age (Melbourne) 08/10/01

NEXT HARRY: JK Rowling denies writer's block. "There is no writer's block; on the contrary, I am writing away very happily. I made it clear last summer that I wanted to take the time to make sure that book five was not dashed off to meet a deadline, but was completed to my full satisfaction as its predecessors have been." New Zealand Herald 08/08/01

Thursday August 9

HOPING FOR A NEW HARRY: Is JK Rowling suffering from writer's block? There's been no new Harry Potter installment this year, but "the previous four books were produced once a year since 1997." BBC 08/09/02

THE CHANGING POST: Making fun of the New York Post, with its exuberant headlines and slavish devotion to celebrity has long been a New York tradition. The Post "showed up on newsstands each morning representing a coherent whole — reflecting and defining, in its own unique way, how the city saw itself." Now, with a new editor, it "looks and feels a little like a giant prawn out of water: foreign, a little disoriented, not quite the defining homegrown newspaper it was." New York Observer 08/09/01

Wednesday August 8

20 YEARS OF THE USUAL SUSPECTS: Sure, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie are important writers. So are Ian McEwan Julian Barnes. But those four have dominated the British literary scene since the seventies. Are there no new voices coming along, or are readers - and editors - too lazy to find them? The Guardian (UK) 08/06/01

CONRAD, DINESEN, HEMINGWAY. THEY DID NOT KNOW AFRICA: But what writer does? Toni Morrison thinks Camara Laye does, in The Radiance of the King. In it, he "not only summoned a sophisticated, wholly African imagistic vocabulary in which to launch a discursive negotiation with the West, he exploited with technical finesse the very images that have served white writers for generations." New York Review of Books 08/09/01

JORGE AMADO, 88: Jorge Amado was Brazil's most popular and most successful novelist; his 32 books have sold millions of copies in more than 40 languages. Perhaps his best known - at home and abroad - was Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, which sold two million copies in Brazil alone. Amado had been in ill health for several years. The New York Times 08/07/01 (one-time registration required for access)

POETRY CON: Ravi Desai pledged millions of dollars for poetry programs at major American universities. But after fanfare over the gifts died down, Desai failed to come through with the money. "Most business cons are for riches. This was a con whose payoff was to rub shoulders with poets. What did he gain, except for an engraved ax?" Poets & Writers 08/01/01

Tuesday August 7

NO OLD WORDS: Is it more difficult for older writers to get published? Even long-established writers are having difficulty. “I think it is virtually impossible now for any novelist over the age of 30 to get published. Publishers are not interested because their editors are all aged about 12 and they only want books by girls in their twenties, particularly if they are pretty." The Times (UK) 08/07/01

POETRY AND THE SEX SCANDAL: England's poet laureate is usually a pretty safe choice, a feel-good appointment to promote poetry and not meant to push boundaries or provoke controversy. But then a student accused the current poet laureate of sexual harassment and - "oh dear. A sex scandal. Well, nearly a sex scandal. All right, a scandal about sex but with no sex. Certainly no Blue Dress. Please." Salon 08/07/01

THAT'LL LEARN THEM YANKEE SNOBS: "On Saturday in Seattle, a team of four Dallas poets won the 12th annual National Poetry Slam before a sold-out audience in the 2,000-seat Paramount Theatre. It was the first time a Texas team ever won the publicly judged contest of spoken poetry, taking away bragging rights, a trophy and $2,000 in prize money." Dallas Morning News 08/07/01

FINDING A NICHE FOR TEENS: Bookstores have a distinctly adult feel to them these days - coffee bars, endless magazine racks, and entire sections devoted to memoirs of retired New Yorker writers do not exactly bring in droves of adolescents, and most stores seem to like it that way. But there is still a thriving market for the "Young Adult" book, and it is centered online, where teens can not only buy the latest titles, but discuss them in open forums. Wired 08/07/01

COULD SOMEONE FETCH MR. CLINTON $10 MIL? "Former President Clinton has agreed to write his memoirs for Alfred A. Knopf, the publisher announced Monday, in a deal expected to involve one of the biggest advances ever for a nonfiction book. The book is expected to be out in 2003." Ottawa Citizen (AP) 08/06/01

Monday August 6

LETTERS SPECULATE ON PLATH'S DEATH: ""A set of unpublished letters written by the late former poet laureate Ted Hughes - including one blaming anti-depressants for Sylvia Plath's suicide - have been acquired by the British Library. The collection of over 140 letters and other documents were written to literary critic, biographer and friend of Hughes, Keith Sagar, over a period of nearly 30 years." BBC 08/06/01

RESEARCHING THE OBVIOUS:As publishers have poured more and more money into the development of what everyone hopes will eventually be the lucrative e-book market, the public has reacted with marked indifference. Publishers, naturally, would like to know why this is. So far, the evidence seems to point to the good old-fashioned comfort factor of holding a real, bound, pages-and-glue book in one's hands, and knowing that it will never require a call to technical support. Boston Globe 08/06/01

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: The city of Chicago is launching a program designed to get everyone in the city to read the same book at the same time, in an effort to promote reading and literacy. Mayor Richard Daley has selected his favorite book, Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird, for the program. Trouble is, Mockingbird is not the sweet, syrupy days-of-yesteryear tome that many adults choose to remember, and in today's ultra-charged climate of racial politics, some are worried that the book's language and style may offend.Chicago Tribune 08/06/01

READING IS BELIEVING:Victor Hugo is widely considered to be the greatest French poet of the 19th century by scholars and lay readers alike. But aside from repeated viewings of the musical version of Les Miserables, most English speakers have never had much of a chance to judge Hugo's work for themselves, most of his work having never been well-translated. A new collection aims to change all that.The Weekly Standard 08/06/01

Sunday August 5

UNUSUAL DEMOGRAPHICS: A new women's magazine has begun publication in the Netherlands. Mainline Lady has all the hallmarks of glossy rags like Cosmo and Vogue, but with a distinct marketing and content twist: the new publication is aimed at heroin addicts. Really. And it's backed by the national health ministry. Seriously. And the editors don't sound particularly eager for their readers to kick their deadly habit. The Age (Melbourne) 08/05/01

Friday August 3

PRICE OF POPULARITY: As African American literature goes mainstream, some questions: "Whom do black authors write for, and who should our audience be? Will the imprints of the major houses—newly geared up to reach a broad black readership—release mediocre work and ghettoize the literary marketplace, or will they prove a boon for black voices?" Village Voice 08/01/01

Thursday August 2

EXPERIMENTAL NON-FICTION? SOUNDS ODD: It is odd, in the sense that it's uncommon and defies categorization. Much of it is gathered under the hazy rubric "creative non-fiction," popular in college writing programs. "It is an academic refashioning of what used to be New Journalism, that explosion of journalistic self-confidence... Universities report that more than 70% of people studying creative non-fiction want to write autobiography." The Guardian (UK) 07/28/01

  • Previously: ABOUT ONE'S SELF: "The subject of autobiography is always self-definition, but it cannot be self-definition in the void. The memoirist, like the poet and the novelist, must engage with the world, because engagement makes experience, experience makes wisdom, and finally it's the wisdom - or rather the movement towards it - that counts." Chronicle of Higher Education 07/30/01

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, MOVIN' ON: "For as long as people have been writing about their journeys, they have been telling tales of the strange and the wondrous... The names of places change, the conveyances become faster, the duration of the journey grows briefer - but the most accomplished travel writers know that the stories they tell follow the same patterns as did the stories heard or read centuries before, the stories that made them leave home in the first place." The New Republic 08/01/01

WHODUNIT? IT MAY HAVE BEEN THE AUTHOR: Those people running around in deerstalker hats smoking pipes in Dartmoor this week were celebrating the 100th anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, arguably the best-known Sherlock Holmes story. But did Conan Doyle even write the story? A historian charges that Doyle stole the story from his lover's husband, then helped kill the man to cover his tracks. If nothing else, it would make a good mystery story. BBC 08/02/01

Wednesday August 1

HOW TO WRITE: You see them in every bookstore, those books that promise to teach you how to write. "Evidently there exists a widespread belief that the good ol' Yankee can-do spirit - the kind that helps you to learn how to puff a soufflé or lay a garden path - extends to an imaginative realm like novel-writing." If only it were so easy... Opinion Journal 07/27/01

HOLDEN CAULFIELD TURNS 50. DON'T YOU FEEL OLD? "It was 50 years ago that J.D. Salinger first published Catcher in the Rye and ever since, people have been calling the book's narrator, Holden Caulfield, their hero. Reading about Holden's three-day "madman" odyssey in New York City has changed people's lives. They've identified with his struggles and his longing for the innocence of youth. But the book was published in a different time, when the nature of innocence was a very different thing." National Post (Canada) 08/01/01

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