Italian prosecutors are working up obscenity charges against the makers of The Da Vinci Code film. Personally, I agree, but for different reasons. I think it was a crime to sully Tom Hanks’ career with something dumpier than Splash.
A total of 10 people from the film production were named. They cannot be extradited to face charges, but could be arrested if they travel to Italy.
The state prosecutor’s office near the village of Civitavecchia, north of Rome, opened a criminal investigation into the film after complaints by a group of priests.
The priests argued The Da Vinci Code is “obscene” from a religious perspective under Italy’s criminal code because it puts forward the idea that Jesus was married and had a child.
The complaint comes almost a year after the commercial release of the film.
You’d think the priests would be most invested in keeping this work OUT of the media. But a year later they make it all the more interesting to people who had already forgotten to see it.
News from my friends:
- Maud points to an explanation of why Kingsley Amis hasn’t caught on in the US
- Jessa points to a Nerve.com piece on how certain self-help titles can be deal-breakers (be warned: some people might not consider Nerve.com a work-safe site — but since I have a story about an amputee hooker in their archives, I think it’s great)
- Ed reports the sad news that Punk Planet is dead (when I still worked full-time at Maisonneuve, we were planning a “readings” section like in Harper’s, but with our trademark alt-eclectic edge… I ended up backing out of the editorship of this section before it came to fruition, but it seemed like every issue I sketched together had at least one snip from Punk Planet. Great mag.)
Some good news from the indie world, for a change. A profile in SF Chronicle on an indie bookstore that’s making it.
Alison Reid gave a knowing smile as Charles Spaulding, a sales representative for Knopf/Random House, tried to persuade her to increase her order of a new murder mystery, “The Chicago Way.” Reid — co-owner of Diesel: A Bookstore, a small, independent store in Oakland — allows Spaulding to “push” her on three books during each sales visit.
Spaulding pushed. Reid listened. Then she gave in and increased her order dramatically — in fact, doubled it.
She ordered two copies.
“The author is unknown in the general public, but it’s set in Chicago and Knopf is a good publisher,” Reid mused. “This would normally only be an order of one.”
Ordering two copies of a $23 book instead of one seems like a trivial decision, so small as to hardly matter. But the line between profitability and red ink in a bookstore is so thin that even the little decisions are important.
And the path to profitability is paved with a thousand such tiny decisions — whether to return an unsold volume to the publisher after three months rather than four, whether to order six copies of a glittery butterfly greeting card rather than a dozen, whether to schedule three or four clerks for a Friday evening work shift.
Diesel and its owners — Reid and her life partner, John Evans — are an example of what it takes to make a small bookstore succeed in today’s era of chain megastores like Barnes & Noble and price-slashing online competitors like Amazon.
In a confidential letter to publishers seen by The Times, Waterstone’s has set out what it expects them to pay if they want their books to be well promoted in its network of more than 300 stores this Christmas.
The most expensive package, available for only six books and designed to “maximise the potential of the biggest titles for Christmas”, costs £45,000 per title. The next category down offers prominent display spots at the front of each branch to about 45 new books for £25,000. Inclusion on the Paperbacks of the Year list costs up to £7,000 for each book, while an entry in Waterstone’s Gift Guide, with a book review, is a relative snip at £500.
Surely things are similar here? Insiders with numbers? Please dish.
An erotic poetic romp in the convent has got some nuns’ garters in a twist. They all do wear garters, don’t they? No? Friggin porn. How’s a 12-year-old supposed to learn anything actually applicable?
Jiménez, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1956, two years before he died, is believed to have become involved with at least three nuns from the Sisters of the Holy Rosary congregation. The three worked at a nursing home run by the order in Madrid, where the young poet spent two years at the beginning of the last century. He later described the period between 1901 and 1903 when, on doctor’s orders, he was cared for by the nuns, as the “happiest of my life”.
Jiménez, aged 20 when he went into the nursing home, appears to have enjoyed himself too much, however. The mother superior eventually expelled him, but only after packing at least one of her novices off to a convent in Barcelona.
Now a series of poems that he declined to publish during his own lifetime, in order not to shock his future wife, will help to explain why he was so happy. “These poems will be surprising for many people because they are lewd and erotic,” said the editor, José Antonio Expósito. “This is not the normal Juan Ramón.”
I so so so want to read these poems. I mean: nuns… Damn, you have to be something else to beat out God for a nun’s affections.
Alexie’s writing is filled with ambiguous, complicated native characters like Zits. It’s a correction of the one-dimensional noble savages and bloodthirsty scalpers he watched on TV while growing up on a reserve in Washington state in the 1960s and ’70s. Making Zits biracial adds another layer of complexity: he’s at once the persecutor and the persecuted.
“I’ve got no right to judge other people for being killers. In my culture, we’ve revered warriors. Look at Little Big Horn. It’s generally seen as a victory of the oppressed against colonial forces. But at a certain point, the native Americans began committing horrible atrocities. They tortured the cavalry soldiers to death and then mutilated their corpses. A military victory became a war crime. As Zits says, ‘How do you tell the difference between the good and the bad guys?’”
The first line of this pull quote made me chuckle.
You, you’re a book-lover. That’s the reason you come here every day. You love books and are addicted to the intellectual crack of book news. Books give you your real high, but you can’t be caught staring at a hardcover at your desk, can you. You CAN, and probably do, fake working on something important when your boss hits your cube wall and asks for that report you didn’t get done because you were reading The Onion piece on Harry Potter. You sigh heavily, shake your head and motion tiredly to your strategically tilted monitor, saying, “That’s going to have to wait until I put out this fire. Noon. You’ll have it at noon.” You procrastinate on everything else because you’re a book-lover. BUT…. Apparently there’s a morlock-like sub-species out there, called “book-likers” — strange tanned creatures who get exercise and callouses on their hands from something called “work”. They have full conversations with others of their species that never once touch on matters literary, and they’ve even been known to extend their love-making by thinking of something called “baseball” instead of Margaret Laurence. These strange creatures, says the Chicago Tribune, are the wave of the future.
If literature is to survive beyond the next few years, assailed as it is by the triple whammy of brutal economics, shrinking attention spans and unrelenting competition from less demanding pastimes, it will survive as much because of book likers as book lovers. Book lovers remain a fairly stable unit from century to century, a crucial but relatively small segment of the population for whom words are life itself. Book lovers, that is, aren’t a growth area.
But book likers — those whose livelihoods don’t depend on the publishing industry, those who might be teachers, roofers, chefs, accountants, tow-truck drivers, financial analysts or waitresses — constitute a huge potential market. The number of book likers can readily expand, depending on how solid a case we make for the merits of a particular book — and how well the book, once opened, does its job. The miracle of the Harry Potter series, after all, is how many new readers it has lured into literature’s tent. Author J.K. Rowling performs her greatest magic on people who heretofore weren’t regular readers. Her works reach out to book likers, not just book lovers. Book likers are literature’s only real hope; they are its last, best chance.
Men and women on the street weigh in on bookstores deeply discounting Harry.
“Even more damaging to bookstores is the fact that you can purchase Harry Potter books at most vending machines.”
I’m entertaining guests this morning, mostly by hepping them up on caffeine and pointing them toward icebergs, so here are a quick bunch of links. More later if I get a chance.
- The rise of misery lit
- Rushdie knighthood gets Iran twisted up in a knot (if Rushdie breathing gets them worked up, I can only imagine what a knighthood would do)
- Paying for placement at the Christmas book tables
- Bronwen Wallace award gets a cash infusion
- Laura Albert back in the news and headed to court
- Potter fans await the end (like all good cults)
- The death of a decent vocabulary
UPDATED: The comments are back up.
Hi guys, Comments seem to be down here, and I’m not really sure why. I just received a note from my host saying they disabled the comments script for some reason. Until I get this figured out, please bear with me.
A blogger at the Guardian wonders why Americans lead the pack in English prose stylings. Turns out it’s about “class”. As my sociologist love, Lady Ninja, would say: most things are.
English literary language is a pitifully genteel thing by contrast. It’s not like there aren’t great novels written on this side of the Atlantic; of course there are. But the number of English writers that can accommodate the full register of the language are few indeed. Martin Amis has a go – aping his mentor Saul Bellow – but the result is cartoon Nabokov that never really gets out of the library.
It’s hard not to conclude that this is intimately bound up with the issues of social class. The novel developed as a bourgeois form, fuelled by the 19th-century’s ambitious new stratum rising from the working classes, (and has carried on being a form that working class writers in this country use as the means to get out of the working class). Class is somewhat more fluid these days, but it’s still a social division – and the English novel shows it.
Most American novelists, of course, are bourgeois writing for bourgeois (although not always: DeLillo is an Italian Bronx boy, and it shows). But because America’s social world does not have the same enduringly strict boundaries, neither does the language.
Norman Mailer, pleading age, will be signing books in Edinburgh via Margaret Atwood’s ingenious Frankenhand Device (which I still partially believe will be revealed in the future as some sort of bizarre performance art piece by Peggy). Colloquially known as the “LongPen”, a rather unimaginative but servicable name, the Roboscrawl 2000 is capable of exactly duplicating every wobble and shake in an ageing signature, and with its video hookup, easily recreates the air of unfocussed indifference all-star authors can radiate during mile-long book signings. Whether or not exasperated sighs at literary speculators and shady antiquarians in line with multiple rare editions are audible has yet to be proven.
Mailer will use an internet-based technique devised by the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood for remotely signing books called LongPen.
Catherine Lockerbie, who unveiled this year’s festival programme yesterday, said Mailer had written to her saying he was “a member of the ‘Triple As’, age, asthma and arthritis.” His health was in “no way imperilled,” he continued, but “voyaging is hell”. So, reluctantly, he had to cancel his trip to the “great luminous grey city” Edinburgh.
Instead, the festival, which has attracted 650 authors and speakers this year, has decided to use his cancellation as an opportunity to showcase the LongPen system, organising a video-linked transatlantic interview with Mailer by the Glasgow-born writer Andrew O’Hagan.
Mailer will be at his home in Provincetown on the east coast near New York, while his audience will be in the tented city which is built in a Georgian square in Edinburgh’s New Town each year for the festival.
Atwood will also take part, interviewing her Canadian compatriot Alice Munro and also coordinating a trans-oceanic book signing using LongPen of the short-story writer’s works.
I still treasure my little Frankenhand signature that I sent to myself a couple years back. It’s alive! Aliiiiive!
JK will tour the US for The Deathly Hollows. Speculation around opening acts run from Hall and/or Oates to Sepultura, with bookies offering lowest odds on Martin Amis in yellow dog costume, led on stage by Ms. Rowling by spiked collar and leash. Bark like a dog, you literary novelist cur! I can own you six times over by Friday! Ruff! Ruffruffruff!
A new award for emerging gay writers, the Dayne Ogilvie Memorial Grant administrated by the Writers’ Trust, has gone to Michael V. Smith of Vancouver. Congratulations, Mr. Smith.
The winner was selected by a panel of five international judges and the presentation ceremony took place in Dublin’s City Hall. Petterson’s success follows that of Colm Toibin who last year was the first Irish writer to win the Award.
Out Stealing Horses is a poignant and moving tale of a changing perspective on the world from youthful innocence to the difficult acceptance of betrayal, and of nostalgia for a simpler way of life. The story begins in 1948, when Trond is 15, he spends a summer in the country with his father. The events – the accidental death of a child, his best friend’s feelings of guilt and eventual disappearance, his father’s decision to leave the family for another woman – will change his life forever. An early morning adventure out stealing horses leaves Trond bruised and puzzled by his friend Jon’s sudden breakdown. The tragedy which lies behind this scene becomes the catalyst for the two boys’ families gradually to fall apart. As a 67-year-old man, and following the death of his wife, Trond has moved to an isolated part of Norway to live in solitude. But a chance encounter with a character from the fateful summer of 1948 brings the painful memories of that year flooding back, and will leave Trond even more convinced of his decision to end his days alone.
A Guardian blogger posts a globe-trotting list of his favourite cafes to read in. In other news, said Guardian blogger’s travel agent has three kids in college.
I’ve never been one for reading on the beach, but sit me in an shaded square with a good espresso and a book of my choice, in a spot where I can lift my eyes from the page to people-watch whenever I feel like it, and – I really don’t have to say more, do I …?
Just as important as picking the right book to take with you (I always run out of books to read) is, for me, choosing the right place in which to read it. I imagine we all have our own criteria for what makes a great café (beyond, of course, great coffee) but I actually find the nowadays near-ubiquitous café-in-the-bookshop a bit overwhelming – the tables in most Borders, for example, quickly become messy with others’ discarded reads.
So forget the in-house coffee shop, and carry your book to somewhere genuinely wonderful. Here are my favourite places to read over a steaming cup: apologies for the European bias; I’m sure I can count on you to post a few extra UK venues, too.
My favourite cafes from my last three cities are as follows: New York: Des Moines (East Village), Toronto: Riverdale Perk (Riverdale) (The Green Room used to be my fav in the mid-90s, but now it’s filled with whippersnappers), St. John’s: Hava Java (Downtown). Any others? I liked a cafe in the Ottawa downtown with the word “bridge” in the name. I also liked one in Montrel in the NDG neighbourhood, but I can’t remember the name
MORROW: So there is a politics of family, politics of love relationships, politics of religion, politics of walking across the street.
ACHEBE: Exactly. What we’re talking about is power, the way that power is used.
MORROW: I wonder, then, if my original question was diffused by how broad a definition of the word politics you apply. In your novels the interest in politics in its narrower meaning, i.e. state politics, is crucial. Do you think that a novel that does not in an overt way address state politics, the politics of organizing a country or culture, is less beneficent than a political novel–entertaining, perhaps, well-written even, but ultimately of lesser value?
ACHEBE: No, I wouldn’t try to exclude any work. My purpose is not to exclude. If a book qualifies, I wouldn’t exclude it because it doesn’t deal with politics on the state or world level. I would simply say that’s one way of telling a very complicated story. The story of the world is complex and one should not attempt to put everything into one neat definition, or into a box. But also I want to insist that nobody can come to me and say, your work is too political. My instinct is to talk about politics in my work and that is your instinct too. That is the sense in which Come Sunday, too, is a very powerful story. An effective, powerful and moving depiction of the modern world with its politics in all its various dimensions. One should not attempt to avoid that because of this superstition that politics somehow is inimical to art. There are some who cannot manage politics in their fiction, so let them not . But they must not insist that everybody else must avoid politics because of some superstition built up in recent times that defines art as only personal, introspective, away from the public arena. That’s nonsense. Fiction in the West has suffered in recent times by that limitation. When I see a book like yours which is grappling with the big issues — violence, injustice, victimization — that also has the scope of the whole world, that goes from the center to the periphery and back, that’s great. It’s difficult to do, but difficulty is no reason not to do it.
Interveiwed in the Guardian around his first book for children. Refreshingly terse answers.
Do you find writing easy? I’m afraid I’m in agreement with Lionel Shriver – that writing is mainly dull, and if you’ve got any self-respect you’ll throw most of it away. It never gets any easier, although it is less frightening. The turning point in my career was certainly winning the Whitbread first novel award.
What makes you write now? The lack of any viable alternative. Sloth. A dislike of being told what to do.
How do you write? A thousand words before lunch at noon. A thousand words after lunch. Then, if there’s any time left, administration and research.
How do you survive being alone in your work so much of the time? Staring out the window a lot. Falling asleep occasionally. Always having a proper lunch out. Chatting to the people I know down Portobello Road.
Announced. And I’m pleased to see long time ‘Ninja supporter and sometime ‘Ninja interviewee John Degen on the list for his awesome novel The Uninvited Guest. He’s up against some stiff competition though.
And so the terrorists won’t win after all… Seriously, despite the general tendency of the border people to hate all queer materials, it looks like they have found some really digusting shit this time and stopped it. The question remains, though: are the people making these judgements at the border qualified to do so, or are they making them based on personal ideology? (Mostly safe for work… this is a news story. But if your sysadmin finds the accompanying image in your cache, you may either have some esplainin’ to do or an in for a date.)
The on-line versions of the Justin books tell the story of a gay man who is reunited with his 18-year-old son, Justin, after several years. Justin moves in with his father and soon confesses his sexual attraction to him. In the two books, the two are depicted having oral and anal sex and, in one scene, Justin’s father urinates on him.
Priape purchaser Denis Leblanc says he didn’t know the storylines of the books when the store ordered them.
“I knew it wasn’t a church book. I knew it was erotic stories and that it was comics, but I didn’t know specifically what it was about,” says Leblanc.
Tourtois maintains that as adult fantasy comics, obscenity is H&O’s raison d’être, and that they are not harmful and no actors are harmed or exploited in their production. He also says that no other country has stopped shipment of the books.
Under Canada’s criminal code, anyone selling materials that a court deems obscene is liable for a prison term of up to two years.
“You have to be careful what you sell because you can go to jail and I don’t want to get involved,” says Rousseau. “I’m too old for that. You don’t look at everything that comes in. You might not even be aware that you’re selling something illegal.”
“Just to say that [CBSA] found this material in it, does not mean that it is dangerous. We need to have a discussion in Canada about intergenerational sex,” Deva says, stressing that Little Sister’s does not support the sexualization of children.
“I suspect [the seized material is dangerous], but let’s have some experts look at it, and if they do determine that it is, let’s keep it out. I really mistrust CBSA’s ability to determine what is obscene at the present time.”
Can rock stars write? Not usually. Remember Billy Corrigan’s book? Yeesh. But there are a few who have made the grade.
We all know about Lennon, Dylan and Morrison’s stabs at writing, but they are generally held to be the exceptions that prove the rule: though many rock stars have produced eloquently written biographies and memoirs, fewer have turned their hand to fiction and poetry. Some, however, have succeeded.
Reading Richard Hell’s novel Godlike, a modern re-imagining of Rimbaud and Verlaine’s doomed love affair published by Dennis Cooper’s excellent Little House On The Bowery imprint, raises questions about the relationship between rock stars and fiction. Hell – who, as the BBC’s recent Seven Ages Of Rock told us, invented punk rock and had the best cheekbones in Manhattan – is an excellent if marginalised underground literary voice whose flirtation with stardom lasted a few years, but whose dedication to poetry runs far deeper.
Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith [seen here channelling Howard Stern] were poets before they became rock stars (a wholly inappropriate term for Cohen, don’t you think?) So too was Jim Carroll, whose heroin-infused poetry, striking looks and hipster status was enough to convince him that he’d be better off as New Wave pop star. His 1980 song People Who Died remains an overlooked classic of its genre that worked both as a poem and pop song. Tom Waits, meanwhile, remains one of America’s greatest writers without actually having written much down. Perhaps someone tipped him off to the greater profits available to rock stars.
What? No mention of Jewel? I am agog. I am aghast.
The best diaries are not ones that are flawless prose illuminating the zeitgeist of the times, they are petulant whinings of real people. Hell, I can get that at any meeting of writers, editors and booksellers. Why do we need to waste paper on it?
Diaries, or rather great diaries, are not chronicles of their period; they do not show the tantalising inner thoughts of great men. They are biased, corrupt and misleading. Utterly useless to historians, they are literary treasures.
The vast majority of political diaries are like Hitler’s: fakes. Field Marshall Haig’s diaries have been a key source for military historians and their backlash against the “lions led by donkeys” myth of the First World War. That the diaries were proven to have been reworked years later hasn’t stopped them.
Then again, honesty is not always the best policy. The most famous living political diarist, Tony Benn, told the audience at this year’s Hay festival that “if you write down what has happened every day to the best of your recollection… then other people can decide.” He has written 12m words saying what he has done every day. Very few of those words discuss hangovers, naps in cabinet meetings or dreams of undressing young researchers. He’s above all that.
He has, he told the Guardian in one of this year’s Haycasts, an absolute principle of never removing a mistake he has made. While this may well be true of the great political issues of the day where he took a position he now regrets, Benn is never willing to portray himself as a fool in the way Pepys, Boswell, or even Alan Clark do. Because of this, I find him a bore.
My diaries are exceedingly brief. On the rare occasion I’ve tried to start one, it’s lasted a few days or weeks and then fizzled out. Only Bookninja and my secret baby blog have lasted. And I do conduct them like real diaries, with no thought toward posterity. What does that say? It says I’ll never be elected to public office.
The film version of Blindness drawas nearer, having now been cast. I’m always surprised to see Don McKellar cast in things. I don’t know why.
Oscar-nominated director Fernando Meirelles cast the talent net wide for his upcoming apocalyptic feature film, Blindness, and has signed an international roster of stars that includes Hollywood A-listers such as Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore, as well as a half-dozen Canadians, including Sandra Oh, Maury Chaykin, Don McKellar and Martha Burns.
Yesterday, the film’s Toronto producer, Niv Fichman of Rhombus Media, said it was always Meirelles’s intention to entice actors to this film from all parts of the globe, tapping talent from Brazil, Mexico, Japan, the United States and Canada.
“The universality of the cast, representing people from all walks of life, was Fernando’s idea,” said Fichman, who has been working on this ambitious project for more than five years. “He was inspired by this great masterwork [Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago's novel] to create a microcosm of the world. He wanted it cast in a way to represent all of humanity.”
The New York Sun, a paper that fancies itself a rightwing version of the NYT, is ragging on litbloggers. In, you know, a blog. You know, sonny, when I was yer age, I didn’t have all these fancy gizmos to make me soft and weak. Now git outta here so I can enjoy my adjustable, vibrating recliner.
Mr. Tanenhaus put his finger on the source of the problem. Questions like those raised by the NBCC survey envision the book review as a transaction between author and reviewer, rather than between reviewer and reader. To be obsessed with potential bias or conflict of interest on the book reviewer’s part is to imagine the reviewer as a judge, who is obligated to provide every author with his or her day in court. But that judicial standard is impossible, because there is no such thing as an objective judgment of a work of literature; aesthetic judgment is by definition personal and opinionated. Nor would a perfectly objective book review even be desirable. The whole point of a review is to set one mind against another, and see what sparks fly. If the reviewer lacks an individual point of view, or struggles to repress it, there can be no intellectual friction, and therefore no interest or drama.
It makes a certain kind of sense, however, that book reviewers would become obsessed with ethical purity just at the moment that the newspaper book review is endangered. For along with the fall of the print review, we are also seeing the rise of the Internet review — or, rather, of a new form of discourse about books, which is not quite the same thing as reviewing. People who write about books on the Internet, and they are surprisingly numerous, do not call themselves reviewers, but bloggers. And the subtext of the NBCC’s ethics survey and panel was really about the standards, professional and ethical, that bloggers are bringing to the profession.
In one sense, the democratization of discourse about books is a good thing, and should lead to a widening of our intellectual horizons. The more people there are out there reading, making discoveries, and advocating for their favorite books, the better. But book bloggers have also brought another, less salutary influence to bear on literary culture: a powerful resentment. Often isolated and inexperienced, usually longing to break into print themselves, bloggers — even the influential bloggers who are courted by publishers — tend to consider themselves disenfranchised. As a result, they are naturally ready to see ethical violations and conspiracies everywhere in the literary world. As anyone who reads literary blogs can attest, hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned. And the scorn is reciprocated: Professional writers usually assume that those who can, do, while those who can’t, blog.
In fact, despite what the bloggers themselves believe, the future of literary culture does not lie with blogs — or at least, it shouldn’t.
I actually agree with some of the points made here, but I think there’s a greater variety of “blogs” than Adam Kirsch admits for the sake of his argument. The Hearsay (ie, daily blog) section of Bookninja, for instance, is more what I’d call a “newslog”. I link to and make brief commentary on news items. The Magazine section offers a little more depth. It’s the same at all the top litblogs now. Maud, Jessa and Ed all have separate sections for in depth coverage, removed from the gossipy insouciance of the newslog. Jessa in fact runs an entire monthly webmagazine. (Yet my stats show, and I’m sure the others could corroborate, that the newslog, with its regular daily updates, is by far the most read part of the site. Does that speak about what the blogger is saying or the readers want to read? Or does it speak to the nature of the different beasts? My blog posts get read daily because they’re updated daily. The Magazine gets read once and then trails off into a long tail of readership.) And calling this section a “newslog” isn’t just semantics. What we’re all doing in the daily parts of these sites isn’t criticism or reviewing. It’s aggregating the news and providing a modicum of context. If you read my actual criticism, or that of other litbloggers, either online or in the mainstream media, you’ll generally see a different tone more appropriate to the form. The point being, none of us are TRYING to be critics in our newslogs. We’re just passing on the news and making some conversation. It’s oranges to criticism’s apples. (Kirsch invokes his NBCC membership as a badge of legitimacy, but for the record, I’m a member of NBCC as well, and was asked to join by no less than the NBCC president, who reads this site and, I can only assume, others like it.)
The gossip and publicity machine behind the “new Harry”, Tunnels, is dissected by a Guardian blogger. They say it’s going to be the next Harry. Why should we believe them?
They’ve already made £500K in foreign rights deals, apparently. Says Cunningham: “Tunnels has it all: a boy archaeologist, merciless villains, a lost world, and an extraordinary journey to the centre of the earth.” A boy archaeologist and merciless villains? My literary cup overflows.
Everyone likes a good rags-to-riches story (and this one has appeared conveniently close to publication date). It fills with hope those who dream of quitting their day jobs and selling their possessions to write the masterpiece they know is inside them; and it gives PR people delightful and heart-warming material from which to craft overexcited press releases that appeal to newspapers, in a way that “Guy Writes Book, Uses Family Connections To Get It Published, Hits Mid-List” does not. It also begins to give a book the magic aura of the “must read”, helping to conjure publishers’ hopes into reality.
Selling out the first edition in one day is a great hook, for example. Perhaps that’s why rumours fly through the publishing industry about authors (or authors’ doting mums) who buy up thousands of copies of their own first editions to drive up their sales figures and get the press buzzing about how the publisher can’t print copies fast enough.
Then there’s the money buzz: I always thought it was a little tacky to talk about how much money you’re earning, but publicists invariably disseminate this information because it makes a book seem hot – even if the figures are not entirely accurate.
Author to use water as metaphor in new work. (Thanks, Martha)
A charity in the US called First Book, that donates new books to low income families in the US, is asking readers to tell their stories of getting hooked on reading as part of their “What Book Got You Hooked” on reading awareness campaign. Looks like a worthy cause from where I’m sitting. In August they’ll post a top 50 list of books that hooked children. The book that first hooked me was a modified board book copy of Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear. It had been filed into a barbed shiv by another kid on the street and got caught in my eyelid. No, seriously, Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer. No, seriously, it was Penthouse Forum Goes to the Library. No, seriously, it was A Young Person’s Guide to the Kama Sutra with illos by Leo Lioni. SERIOUSLY, it was The Mouse and the Motocycle by Beverly Cleary.
Do book excerpts in magazines help sell copies? Conventional wisdom says they used to. But like most everything else these days, the answer seems to be “maybe not anymore”. Or at least not all the time. So publishers and editors are looking for different strategies. And wouldn’t you know it, the reader might actually win out.
Although excerpts from high-profile books routinely appear in national magazines, some publishers have been having second thoughts about the strategy. Frequently, an excerpt can offer a lift to a book’s sales, but there is always the risk that it might offer too much, thus stealing thunder (and revenue) from the book.
Alison Rich, the director of publicity at Doubleday, publisher of “The Diana Chronicles,” said she had no such concerns. “Tina’s writing is extraordinary,” Ms. Rich said. “The book is an incredibly rich textured portrait of Diana and all the royals, and it’s our belief that readers will be anxious for more.”
Even so, among publishers, “I see more and more of them interested in the TV interview for their author rather than the book excerpt because TV has a greater reach than magazines,” said Sara Nelson, the editor in chief of Publishers Weekly.
Magazine editors who five years ago would have reflexively bid for first serial rights to certain high-profile books are now exploring their options, choosing instead to run a feature about the book or an interview with the author. Some magazines — Time and Harper’s in particular — have turned to asking authors to write an article or essay that touches on issues raised in their book.
“I think the whole model needs to be rethought,” said Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time. “I’m less interested in buying headlines than a great reader experience.”
A wordless picture book is snapping up awards in Oz. A sign of end times? No, says Shirley Dent in her Guardian blog, just a good book.
A book with no words winning a major literary award in Australia? And one marketed as a children’s book?? What spawn of all that is dumbed down in our literary culture is this? You thought Shakespeare and Milton reduced to txt was depressing? Now we’re doing away with words altogether.
The great thing about art and literature is that just when you think you’ve got it nailed, something comes along that grabs you by the throat and makes you gasp with excitement. Mostly (as I’m sure you’ll agree) I am right on matters of literature. But my initial reaction here was (whisper it) wrong. When I finally got my hands on it, I loved Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, a wordless tale of immigrant life. It is one of the most moving encounters I have had with a book in a long time.
Post Sept 11 new rules went into place to prevent violent criminals from getting access to religious texts, specifically Islamic religious texts. Of course the only reason people in the US are upset is because the rules barred certain Christian texts as well, but… Now, you know I’m no fan of organized religion, but there’s so much potentially wrong with this that it’s not even funny.
Inmates at the federal prison camp in Otisville, N.Y., were stunned by what they saw at the chapel library on Memorial Day — hundreds of books had disappeared from the shelves.
The removal of the books is occurring nationwide, part of a long-delayed, post-Sept. 11 federal directive intended to prevent radical religious texts, specifically Islamic ones, from falling into the hands of violent inmates.
Three inmates at Otisville filed a lawsuit over the policy, saying their Constitutional rights were violated. They say all religions were affected.
“The set of books that have been taken out have been ones that we used to minister to new converts when they come in here,” inmate John Okon, speaking on behalf of the prison’s Christian population, told a judge last week.
Okon said it was unfortunate because “I have really seen religion turn around the life of some of these men, especially in the Christian community.”
The government maintained that that the new rules don’t entirely clear the shelves of prison chapel libraries.
Drowned out by the brouhaha of Hay, and then by the miles of column inches devoted to the Orange prize, the Commonwealth prize deserves more attention. Now in its 20th year, it is, in scope, technically very similar to the Booker. The latter is awarded for novels written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland; the former is the same, with the exclusion of Ireland. In practice, however, the Commonwealth prize encompasses 10 awards.
There is a £1,000 prize for the winner of each region (Africa; Canada and the Caribbean; Europe and south Asia; south-east Asia and south Pacific); there are also four £1,000 regional prizes for the best first novel. The top four in each category then slug it out for the best overall award.
For Colin Channer, director of Jamaica’s Calabash literary festival (where this year’s winners were announced) and one of this year’s final judges, the Commonwealth is more genuinely international than the Booker, and more democratic. It is certainly more likely to showcase a broad range of fiction. For those outside the UK, it is often deemed more important, with the regional aspect providing opportunity for writers from the more marginalised of the Commonwealth’s 53 states, whose own countries do not have prizes.
Tunnels, which Harry’s original editor is call the new Harry, is the latest stab at plucking another title from obscurity and turning it into a global marketing phenomenon.
Cunningham found the first of the books, Tunnels, after its joint authors Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams pooled their resources to self-publish a deluxe edition. The first print run, sold through Gordon’s local bookshop in Norfolk, apparently sold out within hours – a sensational success for a self-published book – and word reached Cunningham.
With the backing of Cunningham – a man considered something of a magician himself in the publishing world – the book has gone on to sell pre-publication rights in 15 languages around the world, securing advances totalling more than £500,000. Cunningham is currently in Hollywood, in discussions to sell the film rights.
The thing about books like the Potters and this is that their appeal is set — same with Narnia and Kay’s the Fionavar Tapestry, or Bridge to Tarabithia, etc. Kids love to think there’s something else, another place just hiding under the stairs or behind the wall. It’s the same impulse that leads to religion and it’s hardwired into us. So why would a kids author ever write something else? But this also makes me wonder, why do so many “hidden world” books fail? Is it the story? The writing? Or is it simply a zeitgeist thing? Or having the right editor/marketing machine behind you? Hidden world books were always my favourite growing up, yet now I find them largely unappealing. I look at this book and think, Smart move. Neat concept. But I couldn’t care less about reading it. Why is that? Is it just my standards for good writing, or am I jaded and over-stuffed on satyrs and mysterious portals? It must be that I’m old. Old, I tells ya.
The UK’s new Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, is profiled at the Guardian and then goes on to talk about his plans for the position, including battling the education system to put the fun back in poetry.
Rosen, who was yesterday appointed children’s laureate, loves poems. His eyes bulge with enthusiasm, his words gush like lava, and he salivates as he repeats Wilfred Owen’s image of young men in the trenches “bent double, like old beggars under sacks”. The trouble is, he says, educationalists and government ministers have tried to take the fun out of poetry. They have reduced it to a question to be answered in a Sats test, and that is one thing he is keen to change.
“The question is, how d’you encourage it, not how d’you say, ‘Uh-uh, no sorry, what we’re going to do now is look at The Owl and the Pussycat and count the adjectives.’”
Tina’s back and apparently she’s creature of high standards. These will undoudtedly be on display in her new, non-opportunistic book about Princess Diana.
“I felt the book had to hit a standard or I’d regret it,” Ms. Brown said over lunch the other day at the Beacon restaurant in Midtown. “It had to have some endurance, to enable me to make a quantum leap, to take me into a different area.”
And into the new century, which frankly hasn’t been so great for Ms. Brown’s career. Talk tanked. “Topic A With Tina Brown,” her little-seen show on CNBC, was canceled. For a time she wrote a column for The Washington Post. She contemplated a book about hubris, of all things. Now “The Diana Chronicles” (Doubleday), pegged to the 10th anniversary in August of the deadly car crash in Paris, is Ms. Brown’s latest attempt to reinvent herself and seize the limelight.
At lunch she seemed a little nervous about that. She bristled at the idea that the book might be perceived as “just a gambit for reinvention rather than the passionate literary exercise that it was.” Life, she said “is a process of reinvention, of moving on.” She is returning with pleasure to her “roots as a writer,” she added.
If she has roots, why do I suspect they’re like a weed’s: twisted and stealing water from all the other plants nearby?
What happens to your writing once it leaves your hands? Dr. Phil gets it and self-righteously gums it up with that pushbroom crumbcatcher. Jessa points to this story of a journalist who’s distressed to see his piece lead national TV.
first began to notice the wisp of a girl with long black hair as I drove home from work in the evenings. She was usually standing on a corner beside a gas station in downtown Annapolis, her sliver of a face pockmarked, her dark eyes locked onto each passing vehicle. Her ragged clothes and weary demeanor were conspicuous along this busy downtown corridor, where leafy blocks of historic homes meet antique shops and cobblestone streets.
It took a few weeks for my curiosity to boil over, but I eventually pulled my car to the side of the road, approached her, and struck up a conversation. My press pass, I figured, was license enough to talk to whomever I pleased. Sarah, I learned, was a prostitute. I was a reporter at The Capital. A lot of people wanted something from this troubled twenty-four-year-old. I wanted a story.
What she told me that day, and over the weeks that followed, turned out not only to be a great story, but a minor media phenomenon, one that has taken Sarah all the way from her precarious existence on the streets of Annapolis to Dr. Phil’s coveted couch in Los Angeles. And yet it’s a story that has also left me with questions about the nature of the narrative I began to construct that day last April. With Sarah’s recent appearances on national television, these questions have only intensified.
Coveted couch? I’d think that couch would be like self-respect quicksand.
Philosopher, dead at 75.
The tools of the trade are becoming more varied and powerful every day. My Moleskine cowers in the corner once I strip-mine it for notes and head to the computer to compose. It’s just how it goes these days.
From the fountain pen to the word processor, writers have always embraced technology to make their task less arduous. Mark Twain was an early enthusiast of the typewriter, and his “Life on the Mississippi” is believed to be the first typewritten literary manuscript. “The machine has several virtues,” he remarked of his Remington. “I believe it will print faster than I can write.”
Today, most novelists don’t venture beyond the word processor — and many still write longhand. But others are finding that sophisticated software is invaluable to the literary enterprise. While Dickens and George Eliot had only notebooks and their wits to keep their Victorian triple-deckers in order, novelists like Richard Powers, Vikram Chandra and Marisha Pessl have used everything from Excel spreadsheets to logistics programs like Microsoft Project to organize their imaginative universes. To them, computer technology isn’t a threat to literature but an essential tool.
A friend here offered to loan me a trial of some software that allows you to move chunks of text around the screen in little cards so you can try out different configurations of your story. It’s designed for big project writing and she’s used it for two books. Beats the way I did it before with safety scissors and tape.
Is Harry hurting more than helping? I think that’s a given, don’t you? But one thing it sure is helping is to get those strange, pasty, inappropriately costumed adults out of their living rooms and into the sunshine to read and talk about the little kids they wish they were so they wouldn’t look so ridiculous wasting their time reading a little kids’ book.
Amazon.com boasted more than 1 million advance orders for the book, easily besting advance orders for Rowling’s 2005 release, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
In April, Barnes & Noble said advance orders for “Deathly Hallows” topped 500,000 copies, breaking the bookseller chain’s record for advance sales.
But with widespread discounting biting a gigantic chunk out of any potential profits, many booksellers are not enthused about its release. And for smaller, independent book stores, the discounting makes for a hard calculation.
“The bookselling trade has lost millions by having to discount Harry Potter as heavily as they do,” said Caroline Horn, children’s editor at Bookseller, a British trade magazine.
“A lot of independent bookstores won’t be selling Potter. They say it would be cheaper to buy it from a supermarket than the publisher.”
Quick, grab a d20 and roll a saving throw versus chronic social awkwardness! Oooh. Bad luck. Countered by your Cursed Tome of Charisma Drain -6.
Indigo, Canada’s book store that provides its customers more non-book crap than you can shake a scented candle at, is funding a foundation that supports Israeli soldiers. Naturally, this is not controversial whatsoever.
The majority shareholders of Indigo/Chapters, Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz, established the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which offers scholarships to individuals from other countries who volunteer to join the Israel Defense Forces. According to the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, there are between 5,000 and 6,000 lone soldiers in the Israeli military, and HESEG plans to donate up to $3-million per year.
“Everyone is shocked about Indigo,” says Randa Chalhoub, an organizer with Tadamon!, a Montreal-based group that works in solidarity with grassroots struggles in Lebanon.
“Most people don’t want to go into a bookstore, buy a book, and have that money go to an army.”
Who are you going to dedicate your book to? Unless you’re unusually repulsive, you probably have at least a few people who could be up for the honour. How do you choose? Who gets the ink and who gets disappointed? And what happens later when you hate that person because he accidentally swallowed your goldfish whole in a bizarre accident involving a rake, a letter opener, a funnel and an ounce of super glue? What then?
The book may be good, bad or both, but once it is finished you can dodge it, stand by it, disown it, move on, say you did or didn’t mean it, point out that you made it up, insist that it has nothing to do with you or anything that has happened in the past. The dedication, on the other hand, is where you have to say exactly what you mean. The dedication is where you can balls up the rest of your life.
To whom, then? And how do you say it? It’s an almost impossible choice for, aside from the chosen one, every person you hold dear is going to be disappointed. Put it another way: writing a dedication to a novel is a bit like composing an email to your closest friends and family, explaining that you don’t like them as much as you have been pretending, hitting “send all” and cc-ing the rest of the world. Where to start?
The only thing that can be more annoying than a rambling acknowledgments page, as far as I’m concerned, is a twee or flowery dedication. Observe. Just “To” or “For” and a name. Get in, get out. It’s embarrassing enough as it is that we feel we have to dedicate everything as though they’re plinths. My four books go: Lady Ninja, my dad, Lady Ninja, and Richard Outram.
Poet, critic and translator, dead at 83.
Now you all know I’m no big Harry fan, but this woman does not belong in a position of care of or authority over children.
A Pentecostal teaching assistant who quit her job at a foundation primary school after she was disciplined for refusing to hear a child read a Harry Potter book is seeking compensation for religious discrimination. She claimed that the book glorified witchcraft.
Sariya Allen, whose case is expected to end today at the south London employment tribunal in Croydon, claims Durand primary school in Stockwell discriminated against her as a born-again Christian and put her at a disadvantage compared with teaching assistants who were not of her faith. After three years in the job, she quit in July and is now jobless.
Yeah, the disadvantage is that her belief system revolves around subservience to an unstable, omniscient, super-powered ghost and his army of chosen mystics who interpret His magic books, deliver weekly incantations in His honour, and perform rites of healing and blessing that allow His followers to grow wings, travel to far off lands in the clouds, and lie down with lions and lambs. How can she be expected to identify with the world of Harry Potter?
Sam Jordison ponders what makes a great book title. Titles are so difficult. I have several friends with finished books still struggling for their titles before publication.
A few days ago, for instance, I came across the phrase: “In the morning, an incident of blackbirds happened.” I’m afraid I can’t give you any rational explanation as to why the sentence pleased me so much, other than that it has some indefinably resonant quality. What I can say with certainty, however, is that if a book came out with the title An Incident of Blackbirds, I’d buy it straight away. Don’t ask me why. It just sounds good.
I’ve been reading through a stack of manuscripts lately and I can tell you, without a moment’s hestitation, that the strength of the title is almost always commensurate with the strength of the book, at least on the negative side of things. Bad title, bad book. Now, on the other hand, a good title can often be a clever disguise…
Google has announced new partners in its plan to scan the world. Instead of it’s base 12 partner universities, 25 will now feed the great optic maw at Google HQ. Keep publishing, people, because when they run out of books, it’ll be your ass they’re digitizing next, and you’ll be the only dude The Matrix dressed in khaki shorts and Birks, and who doesn’t know Kung Fu….
The promise of the Google Library Project has always been its ability to offer an unmatched collection of digitized materials. Such major universities libraries as those of Harvard, Princeton and Stanford Universities are already involved, as are key academic libraries abroad, such as those at University of Oxford and Ghent University. Two of the CIC members are already members: the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The new collections involved will come from those two and the 10 other members of CIC: Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Pennsylvania State and Purdue Universities; and the Universities of Chicago, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.
The idea of the Google expansion is to take the portions of these collections that are unique and that would thus add the most to the project. While final lists of collections are still being set, they are expected to include Northwestern’s Africana collection, Chicago’s South Asia collection, Minnesota’s Scandinavia collection, and agriculture and food science collections at the land grant institutions in the consortium. Many of the 300 languages represented in the university libraries will be represented.
The works will join the Google project and will also make up a common digital storage system so that each of the universities involved will gain immediate access to many more materials. The universities will not be paid, but Google will cover the costs, which are expected to be significant, given estimates of up to $100 per book to digitize.
Publishers are waffling on whether Book Expo Canada is actually useful for anything but schmoozing. Patrick Crean would like to see it move around the country a bit and maybe turn into a rights fair. Bookninja, on the other hand, would like to see it held in a giant, spinning Gravitron cylinder so we can see what everyone would look like with g-force-induced facelifts.
Can BookExpo Canada, which begins tomorrow in Toronto, ever become more than a schmoozefest?
The booksellers, publishers, distributors and wholesalers, authors, agents, librarians and Expo organizers who attend each year agree that “it’s a good thing,” as several said in recent interviews, but most haven’t got a precise notion about what it’s good for, beyond a chance to network.
Crime novelist Patricia Cromwell is battling a cybertalker. Her case may change the way we deal with whackos like this guy on the internet.
For the past seven years, a man has been filling websites with a relentless stream of vitriolic accusations against Cornwell: that she is a “Jew-hater” who follows Hitler, bribes judges, is conspiring to have him killed, and is under federal investigation. He has made no direct threats, and for a long time Cornwell ignored him. Last month she sued him for libel, hoping to shut him down, and Tuesday a federal judge ordered him to pull his attacks off the Internet.
Celebrities have been criticized, harassed, and harangued before. What is unusual about this case is both the persistence of the person behind the attacks and his use of the Internet, which has allowed him to lash out at his target from beyond the reach of the courts. The case also highlights a dilemma of the Internet age: how to defend against libel when the defamer can so easily hide.
Crime writers handed out their awards this week, affectionately known as the Crimson Shivs. Comedian Sean Cullen was among the recipients. It’s about time we got back to laughing about murder and betrayal.
It only took a couple days, but here’s a wider range of Griffin coverage.