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Thursday October 31

GEORGE W. BUSH, BOOK CRITIC: The President of the United States apparently has a bit more time on his hands than many people think. According to author and Marine Reserve veteran Gabe Hudson, President Bush was anything but pleased to receive a copy of Hudson's well-reviewed story collection entitled Dear Mr. President, and sent back a note calling the book "unpatriotic and ridiculous and just plain bad writing." Hudson further claims that FBI agents have been showing up at his most recent book signings. The White House isn't commenting. Hartford Courant 10/30/02

THINKING BACK: Sure we're always hearing buzz about the latest books coming out. But it's a publisher's backlist that pays the bills. "Though the definition of where frontlist ends and backlist starts is tough to pin down, the idea of books that have stood the test of time inspires rapturous enthusiasm among independent booksellers, several of whom recently shared their thoughts on this vital category. Selling older titles is profitable and basic to the entire book enterprise." Publishers Weekly 10/28/02

THE WRITER'S VOICE: "When Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Mantell founded Caedmon Records in 1952, they had little idea their upstart label would develop a back catalogue that included recordings by Ezra Pound, e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg and T.S. Eliot. Fifty years later, original Caedmon LPs have become fetish items for collectors, as many of the existing LPs have been destroyed by school children who have played library copies to inaudibility, and club DJs who use the LPs to pepper their dance tracks with snippets of dialogue." National Post (Canada) 10/31/02

HAPPY NaNoWriMo! You mean you haven't started your novel yet? Well, you'd better get cracking - November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, to the cognoscenti,) and if you want to participate, you'll have thirty days, starting tomorrow, to write 50,000 words that no one outside of your household will likely ever read. Oh, and 6,000 people are said to be participating across the country, so your work had better stand out from a crowd. What's the point, you say? Oh, c'mon: wouldn't it feel great to put a check mark next to 'Write a Novel' on your great cosmic to-do list? Chicago Tribune 10/31/02

Wednesday October 30

"DIFFICULT" WIN: France's top literary prize is the Prix Goncourt. It has great prestige but only token monetary value. This year's winner is Pascal Quignard, who won for a book that critics have described as a "difficult" read. "It's a sequence of beginnings of novels, stories, landscapes, autobiographical fragments. It's not a novel or an essay." BBC 10/29/02

LONGING TO TELL YOU... What's with all these new extra-long books? The number of 500-page books is growing. "Economic reasons, naturally, play a part in this trend. To publish a long book does not cost much more than to publish one of 300 pages or fewer - perhaps about £5. But the market dictates that you can charge about £20 for a massive volume - and less than half of that for a smaller one. For publishers, booksellers and even writers, the margins on short books look very unappealing." The Telegraph (UK) 10/30/02

Tuesday October 29

TO BE CANADIAN (SAY IT PROUD): Canadians seem to be scooping up all the big international literary prizes these days. Canadians themselves seem a little dazed by all the attention, but there's no denying that Canadian literature now has cachet. How did Canada grow its crop of prominent writers? MobyLives 10/29/02

POETS LAUREATE - PRACTICING WITH AN EXPIRED LICENSE? Current controversies over American state poets laureate are a bit embarrassing. But hey, poets live messy lives, and besides, ''it has sparked the kind of controversy that allows people to have opinions about something they never knew existed in the first place. Maybe people will even care to have an opinion, and that's a good thing.'' Boston Globe 10/29/02

RESCUING WRITERS: The Australia Council has a program for "eminent" writers to "rescue" them from financial hardship. The program gives $80,000 each to authors who have "published at least four works, regardless of age, and must 'dazzle' the board with their literary merit, critical recognition and contribution to Australian literature. Eighty-one writers received grants totalling $1.94 million, out of a record 543 applicants." Sydney Morning Herald 10/29/02

A GOOD MAD-ON: Mad Magazine is 50 and a cultural icon. Okay, so its circulation peaked in 1974 at 2.8 million and is now averaging about 250,000 each month. But Mad was father (or at least wierd uncle) to a whole generation of ironic, sarcastic humor. Funny, its style is so pervasively reflected throughout modern North American culture it's difficult to remember pre-Mad times. Toronto Star 10/29/02

Monday October 28

SUING THE PATRIOT ACT: A coalition of free-speech groups have sued the US Justice Department over the Patriot Act. "The Patriot Act, passed in October of 2001, allows the seizing of records from institutions like libraries and bookstores even in situations where criminal activity is not suspected. It also imposes a gag order that prevents those who records have been seized from reporting what happened. The suit seeks certain pieces of what it describes as generic information, such as how many times the act has been used and against what kind of establishments. It does not seek to uncover what was revealed in these seizures." Publishers Weekly 10/24/02

MARTEL'S 'OVERNIGHT' SUCCESS: Last week Yann Martel won the Booker Prize. Not many had heard of him before that. He got only a $20,000 for Canadian rights to Life of Pi, US$75,000 for US rights and was turned down by five UK publishers before getting $36,000 for the UK rights from a struggling publisher. For four years those advances were his only income. "I could only do it because I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't have a car. I have roommates. I wear second-hand clothes. I have no TV. I have no stereo. My only expenses are my notebooks and my computer." National Post (Canada) 10/28/02

Sunday October 27

THE MAKING OF A COUP: When the wildly unorthodox process that led to the selection of Yann Martel's Life of Pi as winner of this year's Booker Prize came to light last weekend, the spotlight was thrown onto Professor Lisa Jardine, who may just have transformed the prize forever. "Every coup is part cock-up, part conspiracy. For the suits of Booker, the biggest cock-up was that, in the echo chamber of the British Museum, their proprietory rhetoric was inaudible. No one paid any attention. So when Harvey McGrath of the Man Group delivered the coup de grâce, establishing the Man Group's control of the prize in a few silkily lethal sentences, Booker's ancien régime was already mortally wounded." The Observer (UK) 10/27/02

  • THE TRAPPINGS OF FAME: So what will Yann Martel's Booker win do for his career? Certainly, sales of his prize-winning book will skyrocket, but in the long term, many serious authors have found fame to be as much a hindrance as a help. Norman Mailer once claimed that his celebrity "ripped my former identity from me," and damaged his ability to work. The Telegraph (UK) 10/26/02

TRIAGE AMONGST THE STACKS: It's the hardest part of any librarian's job, and there are many who think it shouldn't be done at all. But with space at a premium in nearly every library, the process known as 'weeding' has become an essential, if painful one. Which books to keep, and which to discard? Should lack of recent readership banish a book from its space, or should decisions be made based on quality, as determined by 'experts'? The debate goes on. The New York Times 10/26/02

Friday October 25

REJECTING A WINNER: Yann Martel's Life Of Pi won the Booker Prize this week. But when he was looking for a publisher, five top London firms turned him down. "It is embarrassing for the editors concerned. I understand how they must be feeling today. But you know, this sort of thing happens all the time with serious fiction in particular, where taste and sensibility are what matters. Of course, it is very gratifying when your own judgment and belief in a book's greatest proves correct." The Guardian (UK) 10/24/02

Thursday October 24

ARE WRITERS THE NEW POP STARS? "There’s a sense among young people and those who make it that fiction can be central to the culture. There was a conventional wisdom among the older generations that it was a marginalized endeavor. To see it be a central cultural product for kids today, that’s all to the good. The only caveat is the problems that being a rock star or any kind of celebrity sensation presents." New York Observer 10/23/02

HANDICAPPING THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS: This year's National Book Award fiction list "lacks not only a clear favorite, but also a controversial anti- favorite—think In America, by Susan Sontag, in 2000—that could provide what contest-watchers live for: a big fat upset. Publicly, publishers say nothing but nice things about the nominated titles. Privately, they bicker and bitch about who’s been excluded. And who came blame them?" New York Observer 10/23/02

THANK GOD FOR THE BOOKER: "With a Canadian author walking away with this year's prestigious Booker Prize and another two short-listed, the country's hard hit publishers said on Wednesday they were are only too happy for some deserving international attention... Canada's publishing industry, which has long been supported by the government, has had a tough year after suffering a bankruptcy of one of its major houses, General Publishing Company." Yahoo! News (Reuters) 10/23/02

  • MARTEL MADNESS: Canadian booksellers are reporting a mad rush on Yann Martel's Life of Pi, which was announced this week as the winner of the prestigious Booker Prize. Sales are particularly brisk in Montreal, where several of the city's largest bookstores have been unable to keep the title in stock. Montreal Gazette 10/24/02
  • PLOT OF PI: So, now that the Booker has been awarded, and the gushing has begun anew over the talent of young Yann Martel, what about the book itself? Where did it come from, and where does it take the reader? According to Martel himself, the genesis of the idea came from a scene in a Brazilian novel of Jews escaping Nazi Germany, and fleshed itself out during the author's travels in India into "a novel which will make you believe in God' -- or ask yourself why you don't." National Post (Canada) 10/24/02

SEBOLD'S SUCCESS: The publishing industry, like most entertainment cultures, does not like surprises. The best-sellers are supposed to be written by brand-name authors and fluffed up by expensive marketing campaigns. But once every few years, a book manages to break through the PR wall and sell like gangbusters simply because, well, it's a great book. Enter Alice Sebold, and her self-made bestseller The Lovely Bones. Washington Post 10/24/02

Wednesday October 23

MARTEL WINS BOOKER - AGAIN: Canadian writer Yann Martel has won this year's Booker Prize. He quickly denied that the fact that three Canadian writers made the Booker shortlist consituted a literary movement. "It's happenstance that there's three Canadian writers." This is actually Martel's second time winning the booker in the past week. Last week the Booker website briefly declared him the winner; that announcement was dismissed as an error by Booker judges. BBC 10/23/02

  • THINKING ABOUT CANADIAN WRITING: Martel's book was greeted with good but not great reviews in Canada, but was an instant hit with British critics. "I hope this award will encourage us to think of Canadian literature in a different light, to respond more positively to adventurous, playful, yet intellectually serious strains of writing." Toronto Star 10/23/02
  • O CANADA: "Canada, a country with no Robert Burns or Robert Louis Stevenson in its young literary history, may be the very model of how a nation can actively create and encourage an outstandingly strong book industry, with all the socio-economic benefits which flow from that, never mind the benefits to the heart, soul and grateful mind. Canadian investment in literature comes from various sources, national and provincial." The Scotsman 10/23/02

CALIFORNIA POET LAUREATE RESIGNS AFTER LIE: Quincy Troupe, California's first poet laureate, who was appointed last June, has resigned after it was discovered he had lied on his official resume. "His curriculum vitae says he graduated from college, but he didn't. Troupe, a professor of creative writing and American and Caribbean literature at the University of California at San Diego, is author of 13 books, including six books of poetry. 'He was extremely popular. His work was fantastic. He was loved among his students. It's a shame'." Yahoo! (AP) 10/19/02

  • A LIFE UNRAVELING: The revelation could jeopardize Troupe's post at UCSD, where he has taught since 1991, because it constitutes a violation of the faculty code of conduct." San Francisco Chronicle 10/21/02
  • THE PERILS OF POET LAUREATES: As the states of New Jersey and California have recently found out, hiring a poet is not a benign act. "Some are prone to confuse the prophetic with extravagant foolishness. Many believe that the ecstatic and the orgiastic are subjects just as suitable as the edifying. Some are sinister fools. Many others are in the process of living the same sort of messy, contradictory lives as everyone else - though usually more poetically." Los Angeles Times 10/23/02

DISCOVERING HEMMINGWAY: Last March, in a small house in Cuba, "a delegation of four Americans found what they described as a jackpot: file cabinets and boxes filled with thousands of pages of Hemingway's original manuscripts, rough drafts and outtakes from great works, handwritten letters of love and anger, notes in English and Spanish, and thousands of photographs." The trove should reveal much about the last third of the writer's life. San Francisco Chronicle 10/23/02

LISTENING TO THE PRINTED WORD: Why do people flock to author readings? They can, after all, cut out the middleman and simply read the book. The International Festival of Authors in Toronto is stuffed full of author readings. "You come to hear the ur-voice. To hear authors talks about the work, where it comes from, how it was made. That and the chance to actually shake the hand of the person who's work you've admired. One of the things you can do here that you can't do at a film or music festival is actually shake the hands of the stars." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/23/02

Tuesday October 22

A TRADITIONAL GG: Canada's Governor General Book Award finalists were announced Monday. There were no first-time authors, no edgy, risky new voices on the fiction list. The shortlist includes The Case of Lena S. by David Bergen (M & S), Exile by Ann Ireland (Simon & Pierre), The Navigator of New York by Giller nominee Wayne Johnston (Knopf), A Song for Nettie Johnson by Gloria Sawai (Coteau) and Unless by Carol Shields (Random House), who is also a finalist for the Booker and the Giller. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/22/02

  • SHIELDS' HAT TRICK: With the Governor General's nomination, "Carol Shields' novel Unless, about a family's agony when a daughter opts to live on the street for no apparent reason, is also a finalist for the $25,000 Giller Prize and for the $120,000 Man Booker prize, to be announced in London tonight." Toronto Star 10/22/02
  • WHAT'S CANADIAN? Three Canadian books made this year's Booker Prize shortlist. But is there anything that's distinctly Canadian about them? "Merely posing the question - Is there such a thing as a Canadian style? - betrays the sort of provincialism these Canadian authors and books so forcefully reject. There is no writing that is identifiably Canadian because what is distinct about the literature coming from there is its diversity." Calgary Herald 10/22/02

AN EIGHTH HARRY POTTER? JK Rowling has always said that there would be seven Harry Potter books. But Warner Brothers has copyrighted not only the next three titles, but a fourth as well. "The new titles are book five (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) plus Harry Potter and the Pyramids of Furmat, Harry Potter and the Chariots of Light and Harry Potter and the Alchemist’s Cell." The Scotsman 10/21/02

  • NO EIGHTH HARRY: JK Rowling's agent has denied there are any plans for an eighth Harry Potter. "There is absolutely no truth in the story that either there is going to be an eighth book in the series or that these titles are genuine title for the sixth and seventh books." BBC 10/22/02

SCOTLAND ABANDONS NATIONAL LIT CENTER IDEA: The Scottish government has ditched a £2 million plan for an expansion of the National Library to turn it into a National Literary Center. "The aim was to provide a 'national information and literary centre' by giving the library the space it needs to expand, and at the same time bringing in other organisations such as the Edinburgh Book Festival to promote books and internet learning." The Scotsman 10/15/02

Monday October 21

THE NYer'S NEW FICTION EDITOR: Deborah Treisman, a "32-year-old prodigy little known outside the literary world," has been named the new fiction editor of the The New Yorker magazine, succeeding Bill Buford in one of the most important fiction editing jobs in the literary world. "I suppose it is not wrong to say that that I am interested in younger, more experimental, edgier voices." The New York Times 10/21/02

WHOSE BACKLASH IS IT ANYWAY? Is a backlash forming against today's young trendy literary writers? The signs are all there. But look a little closer - the " 'backlash' being forecast is against a group of writers who started by exploiting a 'backlash' of their own devising." MobyLives 10/21/02

Sunday October 20

DO LIT PRIZES MATTER? They generate lots of publicity. But do literary prizes really make a difference to the world of letters? "Yes, say leading literary professionals, who believe such awards not only carry commercial weight, but also play an increasingly important role in connecting serious writers with readers eager for qualitative road signs in a world awash in books." Los Angeles Times 10/19/02

BAD WAY TO CHOOSE: Lisa Jardine, the chair of the panel of judges for this year's Booker Prize says the way novels are chosen for consideration of one of the world's major literary awards is outdated and she "accused the head of the prize of having an outdated corporate agenda." She says "that the current crop of 130 books - two submitted by every publisher - was too large" and that "the judges were prevented from making the best decision by the sheer number of books they had to read." The Observer (UK) 10/20/02

  • CHANGING OF THE GUARD: This year's Booker jury piles into cabs and rides the London Eye to check a plot point. The ascent of Lisa Jardine as jury chair was, "symbolically, the moment a stuffy old literary prize was dragged into the twenty-first century, the moment when old-fashioned literary critical discourse was replaced by publicity-conscious British empiricism. This, far more than the springtime media flap about the opening of the prize to American competition, is the real, rather overlooked, story of the 2002 Booker prize." The Observer (UK) 10/20/02
  • ALL THINGS BOOKER: For some writers, winning the Booker Prize (the winner of which is to be announced Tuesday) is the difference between being able to earn a living as a writer or not. This is the Year of the Canadian, with three of the six finalists coming from the Frozen North. It's difficult to overstate the Booker's effect on a career. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/19/02

THE DAVE EGGERS PUZZLE: Dave Eggers' new book is being self-published and he's giving away the money earned from it. With the success of his last book he could have done anything he wanted. "He's so averse to promoting himself that it is the canniest act of self-promotion. He really doesn't care - really. But that's hard for anyone in the frenzy business to believe." Los Angeles Times 10/20/02

Friday October 18

BOOK GLUT WARNING: Each year publishers release many of the biggest books in time for the holiday season; it is, after all, the time when most books are sold. But "this year the stream of titles from the publishing houses has become a flood, provoking booksellers to warn that some high-quality titles are at risk of being drowned." The Independent (UK) 10/17/02

Thursday October 17

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCED: Nominees include "You Are Not a Stranger Here," a debut story collection by Adam Haslett, "Big If," by Mark Costello; Julia Glass' "Three Junes"; Brad Watson's "The Heaven of Mercury"; and "Gorgeous Lies," by Martha McPhee, daughter of the award-winning essayist John McPhee." Nando Times (AP) 10/16/02

  • OOPS - MARTEL WINS THIS YEAR'S BOOKER - A WEEK EARLY: This year's Booker Prize winner will be announced next week. But due to a mixup on the Booker website, a notice announcing that Yann Martel has won was posted. A booker spokesperson rushes to assure one and all that the winner isn't really known yet. "The judges haven't met yet. I can guarantee that this isn't the actual result. There are six draft press releases for each of the shortlisted books and this is one of them." The Guardian (UK) 10/17/02

REBUILDING THE GREAT LIBRARY: The Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed 1,500 years ago. "The original great library's collection of some 700,000 papyrus scrolls, including works by Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles represented the first time knowledge was collected and codified by scribes." Now it's been rebuilt The £130m project was initiated more than a decade ago, amid high hopes that the Biblioteca Alexandrina would recapture the spirit of the city's ancient seat of learning." But "the new library is riven with dispute over what its content should be. Egypt's fondness for censorship has meant that rows have already erupted over its book collection policy." The Guardian (UK) 10/16/02

THE CASE FOR N JERSEY'S POET LAUREATE: New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka is almost certain to be removed from the job because of a controversial poem he wrote about 9/11 that is being called anti-Semitic. "The issue is ultimately one of tolerance of diverse opinion. The left gave us political correctness in the early 1990’s, and now those processes of enforcing orthodoxy have been inherited by the right and the mainstream. And the heretics only happen to be talking about the most important international questions of our time." New York Observer 10/16/02

BOOKS FOR THE BLIND: A new law in Britain allows copies of books to be made for the blind without breaching copyright. "Only five per cent of titles published each year in the UK are currently accessible to Britain’s visually impaired people via Braille or large print." The Scotsman 10/17/02

PUBLISH YOURSELF: Print-on-demand books are becoming popular with authors who can't find a traditional publisher. "On-demand books are a new wrinkle in the concept of vanity publishing, in which a vanity press typically prints many copies of the book at once (and generally the author has to pay for them). Since print-on-demand publishers only issue books as needed, costs are lower and the author can even make a little money in royalties." The New York Times 10/17/02

BUFORD TO LEAVE NYer EDITOR JOB: Bill Buford, who has been The New Yorker's fiction editor since 1994, is leaving the job to be the magazine's European correspondent. "In a way, it's going from the best editing job in town to the best writing job in town-except it's not in town." New York Observer 10/16/02

Wednesday October 16

MR BOOKS: Martin Goff runs the Man Booker Prize. He's also the printed word's biggest advocate in the UK. "What distinguishes Goff from the other Hooray Henries around St James's Square is his quixotic quest to get the philistine British to buy good novels. Selling double glazing to Afghans is child's play by comparison." Now "there are rumours that Goff is about to retire from masterminding the Man Booker prize. It will be a sad day." The Guardian (UK) 10/16/02

FRANKFURT REBOUND: "Last year... there was an eerie pall over the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, a gathering of book industry professionals that has been going on since the mid-15th Century, shortly after Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type... But this year, in spite of the rumors of war, the collapse of the economy in important book markets such as Argentina (where 700 bookstores closed in the last three years), and the lingering effects of Europe's switch to the more expensive Euro, the Frankfurt Book Fair -- the largest market for international rights in the world -- was bustling." Chicago Tribune 10/16/02

MORE AMBROSE DEBATE: Some critics felt that obituaries of the historian Stephen Ambrose glossed over reports of his plagiarism, but Tim Rutten detected the opposite bias, singling out the Boston Globe as the most egregious Ambrose-basher, and pointing out that paraphrase (and footnoted paraphrase, at that) is very different from plagiarism. "All synoptic, narrative historians, which is what Ambrose was, paraphrase from other sources. If the standards laid down by his most rabid critics were applied to the four Evangelists, the three Synoptic Gospels would have to be denounced as acts of plagiarism--as would a substantial and revered part of the extant medieval corpus." Los Angeles Times 10/16/02

Tuesday October 15

LUV ME, YA DUMMY: Who like to be insulted? And yet "publishers continue to appeal to potential book-buyers by labelling them dummies and complete idiots. And they've struck paydirt in the process." The Age (Melbourne) 10/15/02

MAKING SENSE: Is literary criticism in need of some organizing principles? "It may be that much literature makes sense in the light of the current warhorses of critical analysis: Marx, Freud, textualism, postmodernism, 'queer theory,' and so forth. But it is equally likely that a good deal of literature (just as life itself) makes more sense in the light of evolution. Accordingly, literary critics might well profit by adding Darwinian analysis to their armamentarium." Chronicle of Higher Education 10/14/02

THE HISTORICAL RECORD: Where is the intellectual rigor in today's historical fiction? "That some of today's historical novelists are talented is obvious, but equally obvious is the fact that they don't want to aggressively interrogate the historical record in any new ways, or challenge their readers' assumptions about how we imagine the past." MobyLives 10/14/02

THE HIDDEN AMBROSE: Why did obituaries of author Stephen Ambrose gloss over his plagiarism? "Ambrose's pilferage was much more than a slip-up in a 'couple of books.' As the Weekly Standard, Forbes.com, and New York Times proved in one damning week last January, Ambrose plagiarized all the time." Slate 10/14/02

Monday October 14

FIGHTING IN PUBLIC: A public and rancorous debate is being carried out in public among two of England's better known public intellectuals. "The debate is particularly English because its protagonists — the novelist Martin Amis and the Washington-based writer Christopher Hitchens — are so rooted in late 20th-century London. Both graduated from Oxford University and have carried out their quarrel in learned texts freckled with Latin. Both won renown while working at the leftist New Statesman in the 1970's. Each had no cross word — in public at least — for the other. Until last month." The New York Times 10/14/02

THE POISON REVIEW: You spend years researching and writing a scolarly book and then a prominent literary review sends it out to a "demon reviewer whose solitary aim is to make mincemeat of you in public. There is, of course, no row like an academic row... The Guardian (UK) 10/11/02

  • Previously: CROSSFIRE: There are bad reviews. And then there are bad reviews. Jason Cowley writes that literary London is wincing at a whomping of "perhaps unprecedented hostility and malice" in the Times Literary Supplement of noted Russian scholar Orlando Figes' new book, Natasha's Dance, "a broad, sweeping, multidisciplinary cultural history of Russia." Moscow-based, British academic Rachel Polonsky's review "cites among her charges against him factual inaccuracies, misreadings, cavalier appropriation of sources and overall intellectual irresponsibility. There are even suggestions, if not of plagiarism, which remains the cardinal crime in academe, then of careless paraphrase." The Guardian (UK) 10/03/02

WANTING WOMEN: "Women's magazines are in a state of flux. Two high profile titles (Elle and She) closed earlier this year, and most of the others are in decline. As a result, most of the mass market major titles including Woman's Day, New Idea, and marie claire have been changing their formula to save themselves from extinction." The Age (Melbourne) 10/14/02

ARCHER ESCAPES PUNISHMENT: Writer, former MP (and convicted felon) Jeffrey Archer has escaped punishment for breaking prison rules and publishing a diary he wrote while in his cell. "Archer, 62, had his £12-a-day prison earnings stopped for 14 days and was banned from using the prison canteen for two weeks. The punishment was suspended for six months" if Archer doesn't break the rules again. The Times (UK) 10/11/02

  • ARCHER'S BANAL DIARY: What about Archer's "literary" impressions of prison life? "Completely worthless from the literary point of view, and relentlessly banal in thought, observation and analysis, they are nonetheless revealing: of Lord Archer's mind and personality rather than of the prison system. And to be privy to Archer's mind in full cry is a depressing experience indeed." The Telegraph (UK) 10/14/02
  • Previously: LETTER FROM PRISON: Jeffrey Archer's diary from prison describing his life there is being published and serialized in the Daily Mail next week. But prison authorities say the diary may break prison rules. "He can't make money while he is a serving prisoner from publications and I have a duty to protect the privacy of other prisoners and members of staff. He has to respect that." If he has broken rules, time may be added to his sentence. The Guardian (UK) 10/05/02

Sunday October 13

STEPHEN AMBROSE, 66: Stephen Ambrose, the eminent historian whose colloquial style made him a bestselling author as well as a respected researcher, has died at the age of 66 after a long battle with lung cancer. Ambrose had lately been battling charges of plagiarism in several of his works. The New York Times (AP) 10/13/02

PRODUCT PLACEMENT OR HACK-FOR-HIRE? Audiences have long since gotten used to the endless and gratuitous product placements used in movies and television shows to generate extra revenue with very little extra effort. But now, an even more insidious form of message imbedding has come to the world of books: "Two entrepreneurial exiles from Britain's advertising universe are venturing boldly and unapologetically into this once-forbidden territory. They propose to write fiction for organizations and institutions that want their message communicated. Never mind the niceties of plot, theme and character development; let's just turn literature into another marketing opportunity, of which the Western world is so clearly bereft." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 10/12/02

Friday October 11

PORTER COMES FORWARD: Peter Porter has won poetry's biggest award - the £10,000 Forward Poetry prize. "After the acrimony of many recent poetry prizes, last night's was a unanimous decision by the judges, for Porter's latest collection, Max is Missing. William Sieghart, the chairman, described him as one of the most distinguished poets working in Britain - where he has lived since he left Australia 50 years ago." The Guardian (UK) 10/10/02

Thursday October 10

KERTESZ WINS NOBEL: A Hungarian novelist whose works draw their dark inspiration from the author's own days in two Nazi death camps has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Imre Kertesz was lauded by the Swedish Academy for "exploring how individuals can survive when subjected to 'barbaric' social forces." BBC 10/10/02

GHOSTWRITTEN NOBEL? One of Spain's most distinguished writers - Nobel winner Camilo Jose Cela - has been accused of "regularly using ghostwriters for most of his career. The allegations... include not just the recent works of Cela, who died in January at 85 and won his Nobel in 1989, but stretch back to his early classics." The Guardian 10/09/02

ATWOOD SUES GLOBE: The Toronto Globe & Mail is being sued for libel by famed Canadian author Margaret Atwood, after the newspaper supposedly singled out Atwood as one of the more prominent signers of a strongly worded petition opposing American President George W. Bush's plans to invade Iraq. Atwood did sign the petition, along with about 130 other Canadian artists, authors, and celebrities, but she claims that the Globe associated her with comments made at the press conference announcing the petition (notably one referring to the American administration as a group of thugs,) a press conference she did not attend. National Post (Canada) 10/10/02

Wednesday October 9

OUSTING THE POET: The New Jersey State Legislature has been working on a resolution to oust state poet laureate Amiri Baraka after Baraka read a poem suggesting that Israelis might have had something to do with the attack on the World Trade Center. Though he can't fire Baraka, NJ Gov. James E. McGreevey "stopped payment on the $10,000 state grant Baraka was to have received as the state's honorary poet laureate." Newark Star-Ledger 10/08/02

SECOND CHANCES: Today's publishing climate exerts huge pressure on writers to hit big out of the gate. And even greater pressure to follow up with another success. There's little patience for stumbles. But "Second-Novel Syndrome has long been an occupational hazard in the world of letters, as authors struggle with writer's block, intense scrutiny, and the self-consciousness induced by sudden celebrity." Village Voice Literary Supplement 10/08/02

BOOKS ON WHEELS: The Internet Bookmobile is making its way across America "stopping at schools, museums and libraries, making books for kids and spreading the word about the digital library that is the Net." It's a "1992 Ford Aerostar equipped with mobile satellite dish, duplexing color printer, desktop binding machine and paper cutter. A sign on the outside says, "1,000,000 books inside (soon)." The van will end its cross-country trek today, parking outside the US Supreme Court, while the future of copyright law is argued inside. Salon 10/09/02

RISK-FREE: Have poets stopped experimenting with language? "Every age has its risks, innovators, uncontainable oddballs, but the 20th is the century in which experiment became the central fetish of artistic production. It may be that the recent spate of proclamations that modernism's not dead yet, please, isn't simply a holding action by the Citizens for Endowed Chairs for Modernists, but a recognition that we haven't managed to come up with a criterion beyond experimentation (though raw marketability seems to have done well in the fine arts)." Village Voice Literary Supplement 10/08/02

BACK TO TELL ABOUT IT: "Gabriel García Márquez, the 1982 Nobel laureate from Colombia and the foremost author in Latin America, learned in 1999 that he had lymphatic cancer. He promptly cloistered himself with a single-minded pursuit not seen perhaps since he wrote the 1967 masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, in a little more than a year, his only vice a steady supply of cigarettes provided by his wife, Mercedes." Now he's about to release "what may be his most-awaited book, Vivir Para Contarla, or To Live to Tell It." The New York Times 10/09/02

CROSSFIRE: There are bad reviews. And then there are bad reviews. Jason Cowley writes that literary London is wincing at a whomping of "perhaps unprecedented hostility and malice" in the Times Literary Supplement of noted Russian scholar Orlando Figes' new book, Natasha's Dance, "a broad, sweeping, multidisciplinary cultural history of Russia." Moscow-based, British academic Rachel Polonsky's review "cites among her charges against him factual inaccuracies, misreadings, cavalier appropriation of sources and overall intellectual irresponsibility. There are even suggestions, if not of plagiarism, which remains the cardinal crime in academe, then of careless paraphrase." The Guardian (UK) 10/03/02

  • TAKING FIGES APART: Read Polonsky's dissection of Figes' book. Times Literary Supplement 10/04/02

Tuesday October 8

ALD - R.I.P: The popular website Arts & Letters Daily has shut down. Editor Denis Dutton has updated the site for the past year after parent company Lingua Franca went out of business. ALD and the rest of Lingua Franca's assets will be auctioned off in bankruptcy, but loyal ALD readers aren't out of luck. Dutton has moved on to Philosophy & Literature, where's he's recreated the ALD idea. National Post 10/08/02

PAYBACK: Dave Eggers could have chosen any big publisher to produce his latest book. But he's self publishing and distributing it through independent bookstores. For Eggers and his magazine McSweeney's, it's a way of rewarding those who have helped them. "Almost all small publishers depend on the support of independent bookstores. McSweeney's books have always been sold primarily in independent bookstores, and not by choice. Typically, the chains do not order many copies of our books, leaving most of the sales to the independent stores. Therefore, we always give independent stores first dibs on our books." Chicago Tribune 10/08/02

SERIOUS READING: Many American magazines have been struggling as the economy has worsened. But more serious magazines have seen their circulations increase significantly. Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly and The New Republic are newly thriving. "When everyone is feeling that the only important thing in life is the next Lexus and worship CEOs as demigods, there is little appetite for ideas or good writing, which is what our magazines are about. But the fact remains that you can get more out of good writing than you can from a 500-channel television universe that inevitably dissolves into incoherence. Writing involves thought and creates coherence, which is an appealing commodity in this atmosphere of concern." Los Angeles Times 10/04/02

SEARCHING FOR SUBSTANCE: Writer Jonathan Franzen is back with a new book - a collection of essays that seems to be winning back some of the fans he lost last year in L'affaire Oprah. This is a serious series of writing, in which Franzen "fears that if there ever was an average American reader there no longer is, and, what is worse, that the ranks of serious readers are growing ever thinner." Chicago Sun-Times 10/06/02

  • BACK ON FRANZEN'S SIDE: "To read How to Be Alone is to see how the awkward parting of Franzen and [Oprah] Winfrey dramatized the lopsided war between the idea-mongering minority and the image-peddling majority in American culture. It is also to wish that intelligence were more fashionable." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 10/07/02

Monday October 7

BOOK WORLD CONVENES IN FRANKFURT: The annual Frankfurt Book Fair begins this week "with more than 6,000 exhibitors representing 110 countries, hosting more than 2,600 events and 800 readings and interviews with authors. Although the number of countries and publishers is 5 percent lower this year than last year, the Frankfurt Book Fair remains the largest fair of its kind in the world. The most notable absentees are from the host country itself, with almost 15 percent fewer German publishers reserving space this year." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 10/04/02

PUBLISHING'S GOLDEN AGE: Down with the pessimists, writes Toby Mundy. "With its over-educated, overworked, underpaid legions, publishing is an industry bedevilled by pessimism. This pessimism blinds people to the fact that we are living in a golden age of book publishing in which quantity and quality rival anything in the past, in which books have never been so well published and in which they occupy a more boisterously visible place in the general culture than ever before." Prospect 10/02

  • IN PRAISE OF PAPER: Will electronic publishing kill books? "The first steps of electronic publishing have been faltering. The e-book has not - yet - been a bestseller, or even a viable commercial proposition. One day, however, such ventures will succeed and when electronic publishing becomes the norm, the more desirable (and expensive) the traditional book will correspondingly become." The Observer (UK) 10/06/02

WRITING ABOUT A LAND OF VIOLENCE: Since the 1980s, thousands of Zimbabwe's writerrs journalists and artists who have criticized Robert Mugabe's government have been "harassed, arrested and jailed." And yet, some of the country's most prominent writers tell the story of Zimbabwe's political violence. "I wanted to say, This is how it was. Just that. These destructive people were created, and they roamed the land. I cannot pretend to have been unaware of the relevance now. We weren't past this violence; we have remained in that." The New York Times 10/07/02

Sunday October 6

IT WAS A DARK! AND STORMY! NIGHT! A Canadian publisher specializes in the early literary efforts of star writers - books they wrote when they 17 or 18. What's the point? Some of the writing is enough to make you wince. But "look, there are things like bad spelling and lousy punctuation. Those things make you wince. But these books teach us about a writer's recurring themes, their evolving techniques and skills. They teach us more about the evolution of these great talents." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/05/02

WHY DO WE NEED A RHYMER-IN-CHIEF? Forty US states have poets laureate. Most (none?) have been controvesial in the way that New Jersey's Amiri Baraka has. The controversy over New Jersey's poel laureate leads one critic to wonder - why should there even be poets laureate? Philadelphia Inquirer 10/05/02

LETTER FROM PRISON: Jeffrey Archer's diary from prison describing his life there is being published and serialized in the Daily Mail next week. But prison authorities say the diary may break prison rules. "He can't make money while he is a serving prisoner from publications and I have a duty to protect the privacy of other prisoners and members of staff. He has to respect that." If he has broken rules, time may be added to his sentence. The Guardian (UK) 10/05/02

Friday October 4

SURPRISING SHORTLIST: "The shortlist of a major prize is notable as much for what is not on it as for what is. So it is this year for the ninth annual Giller Prize for fiction, whose nominees were announced yesterday at a news conference in Toronto. On the 2002 shortlist are authors Carol Shields (Unless), Austin Clarke (The Polished Hoe), Wayne Johnston (The Navigator of New York), Bill Gaston (Mount Appetite) and Lisa Moore (Open). "Surprising" and "controversial" were just some of the adjectives circulating among the crowd at the posh downtown Toronto hotel ballroom after this year's panel of judges... presented a shortlist of five for the $25,000 prize. The winner of what has been described as both the most prestigious honour and best marketing/promotion tool in English-Canadian literature is to be named at a gala banquet Nov. 5." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 10/04/02

  • GILLER IN PERSPECTIVE: "We in the book chat business must face it. The announcement of the short list for the Giller Prize, and the arguments over which novels should be on that list, are small potatoes compared to the blazing controversy over the proper salary for [Hockey Night in Canada presenter] Ron MacLean." But like any other contest with national implications, the Giller is a fascinating glimpse into the world of writers and publishers, and the politics of the thing alone are enough to fascinate any observer. Toronto Star 10/04/02

RADICAL CRITIQUE: BR Myers is back with an expanded complaint about the quality of contemporary fiction. He "argues that the typical 'literary masterpiece' of today is usually in fact a mediocre work dolled up with trendy writerly gimmicks designed to lend an impression of artsy profundity and to obscure the author's lack of talent. Myers's goal, he explains, is to convey to fellow readers that they shouldn't feel cowed into reading (and pretending to be engaged by) the latest dull and pretentious book just because the literary establishment has pronounced it 'evocative' and 'compelling.'Rather, Myers emphasizes, readers should trust their own instincts, and decide for themselves what books speak to them in meaningful ways." The Atlantic 10/02

WHERE THE SNOBBERY IS: Maurice Sendak's illustrations are unmistakable, and his drawings for such children's classics as Where the Wild Things Are made him a legend to generations of young readers. But like so many popular artists before and after him, Sendak has some trouble being taken as a serious artist. "Snobbery is the biggest obstacle to him being recognized as a fine artist," says Nichols Clark, director of the new Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. "And it's not just Sendak. There are many illustrators who are far better artists than those who consider themselves fine artists." The Christian Science Monitor 10/04/02

Thursday October 3

A NOT-TOO-POETIC DUST-UP: A firestorm has erupted in New Jersey over a poem written by the state's poet laureate shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Governor Jim McGreevey has called for the resignation of Imamu Amiri Baraka from the laureate post after hearing the poem, which includes the line "Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the twin towers / To stay at home that day / Why did Sharon stay away?" (For the record, there weren't 4,000 Israelis employed at the World Trade Centers.) The 67-year-old Baraka, who was inducted last year into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, calls his critics "right-wing zealots," but has yet to directly answer the charges of anti-Semitism stemming from the poem. Washington Post 10/03/02

TEXAS VS. HISTORY: The Texas Board of Education is choosing new textbooks, and various groups are lobbying to modify what's included in the history books. A group called the Texas Public Policy Foundation "wants texts modified to tell how African chieftains, not Europeans, captured slaves for sale in America. It wants to emphasize the role of white Europeans in ending slavery. It objects to portrayals of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as civil rights supporters, noting that the brothers refused to support the movement at crucial times. The group also wants texts to say that the Constitution protects an individual's right to own guns and that the wealthy pay a disproportionate share of income taxes." The New York Times 10/02/02

  • Previously: CLEANING UP DODGE: A Republican party "Leadership Council" in Texas is on a cultural crusade. So far it has succeeded in getting a plaster fig leaf added to a replica of a statue of David, remove some art from an Italian restaurant, "persuaded commissioners to use an Internet filter to screen computers at the library for pornography and to put plaques reading 'In God We Trust' in county libraries." Houston Chronicle 09/24/02

WAITING FOR GILLER: This morning, the shortlist for the Giller Prize, Canada's answer to the Booker, will be announced at a Toronto hotel. (The shortlist had not been released as of ArtsJournal's morning deadline.) "Often thought of as a lifetime achievement award, it does not go to a writer who has published some clever first novel with a small literary press in Saskatchewan, or some avant-garde novelist who is being enthusiastically championed by a professor of literature at Dalhousie... The winning novel is always a more-or-less conventional narrative, suitable for book clubs, and frequently a historical novel." Toronto Star 10/03/02

GETTING ON THE GRID: The Library of Congress, the world's largest library, is considering a new way to store its digital collection, which currently contains 7.5 million records. "When you're (preserving) millions of digital entities you have to use automated processing." Instead of keeping the data all in one computer system, the library may try grid storage. "All the digital data do not need to reside in the same physical location to be accessible and manageable by an institution charged with the mission of preserving and managing access to that digital data." Wired 10/02/02

BARENBOIM THE PEACEMAKER: Israeli conductor/pianist Daniel Barenboim, who has made waves in the Middle East twice in recent months, has co-authored a new book with Palestinian intellectual Edward Said calling for peace in the region. "The book, titled Parallels and Paradoxes, grew out of conversations between the two friends, both prominent cultural figures who first met a decade ago by chance at a London hotel... Last month, [Barenboim] and Said were named the winners of Spain's Prince of Asturias Concord Prize for their efforts toward bringing peace to the Middle East." Andante (AP) 10/03/02

Wednesday October 2

POETIC STANDOFF: The governor of New Jersey and the state's poet laureate are at an impasse. The governor is angry about a poem that poet laureate Amiri Baraka wrote and read that wonders about an assertion that Jews were told in advance about the attack of the World Trade Center. The governor wants to remove Baraka because of the poem, but the poet says he's entitled to write whatever he wants. "Under the legal technicalities of the appointment, neither [governor] McGreevey nor the five-member committee of poets who appointed him to the two-year post can remove Baraka." Philadelphia Inquirer 10/02/02

REDISCOVERING BUDDHISM: Researchers are studying what may turn out to be some of the most important Buddhist documents ever found. "The manuscripts dated from the first century AD, and that made them the oldest known Buddhist manuscripts anywhere, and the oldest Indic manuscripts known to have survived." The new discoveries reveal "a missing link between the birth of Buddhism in India and its later forms in China and elsewhere in Asia. Oral transmission had been the preferred or normal way - memorization, recitation, and so forth. What we're now finding out is that, in the first and second century AD, the notion of writing things down took off in a big way." Chronicle of Higher Education 10/04/02

MEDICAL WRITES: New York's Bellevue Hospital publishes a literary journal and holds writing classes. "Publication of The Bellevue Review is part of a national trend in medical education for schools to use literature to teach doctors how to write better and clearer case histories and to empathize more with patients. Reading and writing literature helps doctors think more subtly, pay attention to the finer details, read between the lines, look for deeper meaning." The New York Times 10/02/02

Tuesday October 1

WHEN A PUBLISHER FAILS: Sarah Dearing's new book was published to glowing reviews in April. Unfortunately, it's been almost impossible to get ahold of copies after her publisher Stoddart Publishing declared bankruptcy. So in the week that she just won the Toronto Book Award, she traveled to the Stoddart warehouse to buy some copies of her book that were being liquidated. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/01/02

LACK OF IMPORTANCE: Does the Booker choose only "safe" books? Writer Will Self says "there were very few Booker winners from the last 25 years that have 'in any way rocked society'. Authors like Martin Amis and JG Ballard had only been nominated once while winners were not chosen if they were challenging." BBC 10/01/02

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